Six years ago the Spierig brothers made their feature film debut in their native Australia with the inventive Undead. It may not be the greatest horror film ever made, but they displayed an inventive visual style and an ability to simultaneously wear their influences on their sleeve while also making the results feel fresh. Now the duo have crossed the Pacific and made a film within the Hollywood machine. Daybreakers is the result of their American collaboration. Much like its predecessor, it is a film that feels very familiar yet comes off as fresh and exhilarating.
Daybreakers plays a little bit of genre mash-up with horror, science fiction, and a little bit of action for good measure. It feels a lot like the monster movie version of another Ethan Hawke genre feature, Gattaca. However, this time around the bad guys are vampires and our heroes are a fast dwindling breed. Shot in a palette of primarily gunmetal blues and greys, Daybreakers' familiar look has a cold, medicinal feel. It draws you in while never fully welcoming you in its embrace for fear that you may be sucked into the fate that has befallen this future society.
While the film is set ten years in the future, the story actually begins much closer to our present. A virus has spread like wildfire across the globe leaving the majority of the population with a hopeless case of vampirism. Apparently, the world took to this shift with relative ease as we pick them up ten years in and find society thriving. Technology has been adapted to serve the new dominant species (race? infected?), with cool things like daytime driving cars using roof-mounted cameras, and a walkway system that is underneath the streets, among other things. But this is all window dressing to our big story.
The vampire society may seem well off, but they are reaching a crossroads. The human population is dwindling and the blood supply just cannot support their population. It seems that animal blood is also scarce. Enter Charles Bromley (Sam Neill). He is the head of a vampiric pharmaceutical company that specializes in farming humans for their tasty fluid while also actively working on a blood substitute. Heading up this research is Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), chief hematologist and a man sensitive to the need of revitalizing the human race.
A chance encounter with outlaw humans sends the futures of of both species down a new path that will forever change the balance of power. I will not give it away here, although you likely have an idea of what it may be. It is not necessarily a new concept, but it is done with a style that genre fans will likely enjoy.
While the movie is very entertaining it may be a little over-earnest in its execution. The movie has the fangs, gore, and lore that genre fans crave, but it plays out with zero humor. Daybreakers is a grim affair that goes along with the increasingly serious situation that threatens its subjects' existence. If there is one complaint to be made (I am sure there are more) it's the lack of the funny. A few scenes of comedy go a long way.
Still, I cannot complain too much as I did enjoy seeing vampires with a little bite. I found the look and story to be interesting. I liked the way this world felt fully-fledged, I could see the community and how people related to each other. I could see the structure and how people really seemed to take to the idea of being an immortal vampire.
The performances are effective but mediocre. No one really stands out, although Willem Dafoe's vampire hunter seems intent on trying to have a little fun with the situation, but even he must retain a focus on the deadly seriousness of the blood shortage and human hunting.
Bottom line. This is a movie to see. It gives vampires a little of their dignity back while providing a fascinating world to play in and a pretty good story to get involved in. On top of that, it is great to see some of that blood back on the screen.