Daybreakers Review

I had been looking forward to seeing Daybreakers ever since I saw the trailer shot of the people plugged into the blood-sucking machine. It reminded me of two other darker sci-fi action-horror type movies: The Matrix before it went all philosophical on me (because the robots had people plugged in too) and 28 Days Later (because it takes place not during the outbreak of the epidemic but after, when horrors dominate).

The basic idea behind the film is this:

In a vampire-dominated world, humans have been hunted to near extinction and a blood substitute is desperately needed to stave off famine.

I thought: an original (and very cool) story idea plus a Matrix-ey feel? Sign me up! After the Avatar letdown I needed something that looked original to actually BE original. I saw Daybreakers the day it came out, and boy was I ever NOT disappointed!

My big worry was that the fascinating core idea wouldn’t be executed compellingly. It happens. Ultraviolet, for instance, presents us with an interesting epidemic that turns people into vampires, then does nothing with it. The two main characters spend the entire movie running around doing nothing. Daybreakers, meanwhile, never loses focus.

the focus: humanity and the survival thereof

Most of the humans in the film are reduced to skulking the countryside lest they be captured, plugged in, and turned into the vampire equivalent of coffee cream.

O, A, B, AB, or lemon?

But Edward Dalton, the scientist in charge of the search for a substitute, doesn’t care about vampires starving so much as the human race disappearing forever. He misses his humanity, which is why he’s willing to protect and later work with the ragtag band of humans he accidentally stumbles upon.

The blood shortage and the vampires’ reactions to it give the film an undercurrent of “people are so greedy, they milk their resources dry” (like Avatar) but it’s not as in-your-face and the line between good and evil gets a little crooked sometimes, so it’s not preachy (unlike Avatar). The film isn’t meant to be a deep and meaningful look into the nature of humanity (vampirity?), but it’s got just enough introspection to elevate it above the rank and file of horror movies.

must… have… unobtanium…. I mean blood!

You might be wondering how vampires (who are supposedly immortal as long as they’re not stabbed with wooden stakes, decapitated, or exposed to sunlight) could possibly be starving. In answering that question, writer-directors Michael and Peter Spierig were able to incorporate several different versions of the vampire myth into the world they had built. The charming, attractive, urbanites (a la Interview with the Vampire) represent the well fed members of the populace…

usually depicted as pale people with colored contact lenses

…and the screeching, bat-like monsters (a la Nosferatu) are what they become when they begin to starve. These mindless creatures are known as “subsiders” because they live under the subway tunnels.

danananananana BATMAN!

The subsiders themselves as well as a lot of the other elements in the film are created on computers, and except for a few blips here and there when live action characters were interacting with CGI constructs, the effects are pretty good. I mean, tell me these don’t look cool:

the shiny bluey light-blocked pedway

Wendy I can fly!

The characters are all people, some are human, others are immortal and fanged, but they all still act like people. Three-dimensional people, not the cliched constructs lazy action filmmakers sometimes resort to or the morons with no common sense who populate modern horror films. Though many genre directors seem to feel like character arcs are optional, the Spierigs include enough character development for their characters’ ends to feel different from their beginnings.

The only real exception is, unfortunately, Willem Dafoe’s Elvis, who seems a bit too much like a caricature of Virgil Cole from Flight of Intruder (who was, incidentally, also played by Willem Dafoe) and is pretty one-note the entire way through.

blah blah swear words blah blah guns blah blah pseudo poetic bullshit

For the most part the characters do what they do because they’re scared or lonely or guilty or jealous, so even though the bad vampires are against our heroes, we can never really hate them, only feel sorry for them. Sam Neill is the uber-villain, and he’s compelling as always. He somehow manages to be completely evil and yet not cartoonish.

Muah ha ha ha ha *cough* fiscal responsibility

Ethan Hawke is relateable and sympathetic as Edward Dalton, reluctant scientist vampire who’s searching for a blood substitute not to save other vampires from starving but to save the human race. Despite the fact that he’s a vampire named Edward (you’d think the very idea of connecting themselves to the sappy teen phenomenon Twilight would make everyone involved with this movie cringe) Hawke and the Spierigs mercifully refrain from turning their mild scientist into a miraculously skilled Rambo type the minute he crosses his old bosses. That’s what Elvis is for.

slides to spring loaded crossbows is not an intuitive transition

Daybreakers was filmed in Australia, so apart from Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, almost every other character in the movie is played by an Australian or a New Zealander. Not that you can tell. Well, you might notice that the bit players are a bit better at acting than your average American background actor, but since the film is set in the United States, their accents are all flawlessly American.

no slip ups where “l”s turn to “w”s or “a”s get dragged out from this guy (Michael Dorman)

Dalton, of course, runs into a love interest during the course of the film, but they don’t shoehorn a full relationship subplot and obligatory make-out/sex scene in, which is a welcome break from the norm. Said love interest is called Audrey and is played by Claudia Karvan…

she’s the one in the middle with the awesome coat

… whom you’ve probably never heard of if you don’t watch Australian TV. Which is a shame, because it’s great. Karvan does a good job. I would have liked to see more of her in the film, but alas there’s a lot of other stuff going on.

I won’t give too much away, but the “other stuff” I’m talking about is definitely worth the trade off. There are multiple twists in the “blood substitute” plotline, some pretty disturbing looks into what desperate people do when they’re hungry, as well as some scarily Nazi-esque scenes of persecution directed at the starving, monster-like “subsiders” who so recently had been just like everyone else.

And here is Subject A-42 after he has gone what is medically known as batshit insane

Trust Australians to pull off something this well written, acted, and produced for only $21 million.

My only complaints are that the score is forgettable and that at random intervals during the action we’ll suddenly get scenes where people explode like blood filled balloons when they die. It’s too reminiscent of slasher-horror films like Saw or Hostel and it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie.

the ending, in particular, is like a slo-mo blood-splatter ballet

These are pretty minor as far as issues go, though, and they don’t impede Daybreakers from rating a solid “definitely worth 11 bucks”. I’ll probably even buy the DVD.

Buy Daybreakers on DVD

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