STARRING: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe,
Claudia Karvan, Michael Dorman, Sam Neill, Vince Colosimo, Isabel Lucas
2009, 98 Minutes, Directed by:
Peter Spierig, Michael Spierig
vampire fatigue sets in at the multiplex, leaving anything fanged and out for
blood immediately dismissed due to an overextended trend, please give
Daybreakers a few moments of your time . . .
While assembled with
conventional visual elements and pushing a foreign oil allegory with a decided
lack of subtlety, Daybreakers is a genre funhouse worth the return trip
to the fatigued war zone of vampiredom. Smartly constructed and lively all
around, the gloom and doom submitted by filmmaking duo The Spierig Brothers is
wildly entertaining and appropriately gushy with gore. Against all odds,
Daybreakers is a blast!
In the year 2019, vampirism has
taken over the world, with blood a hot commodity.
Now with human feeding options
reaching an all time low, the vampire community is waiting impatiently for a
blood substitute to reach the market. For scientist Edward (Ethan Hawke),
efforts to find a miracle cure have failed, panicking his corporate bosses
(including Sam Neill). Into his life comes a small band of surviving humans, led
by Elvis (Willem Dafoe), a former vampire who happened upon a cure for his
fanged affliction via vicious car accident, and now wants Edward’s help to
Facing a future where vampirism
could be wiped out, Edward has to choose between an allegiance to his own kind
or the humans, who offer a brighter future far away from blood consumption.
And yes, this is another
vampire picture with a character named Edward. However, this guy doesn’t sparkle
and mope. Instead he doubts and smokes.
My initial hesitation with
Daybreakers was brought on by the Spierig Brothers, who last created the
2004 zombie comedy, Undead. I loathed Undead from top to bottom,
finding it unfunny, sloppily made, and tedious all around.
"It's downright eerie the way the vampires go about their daily
business . . ."
However, here’s the
Daybreakers miracle: it’s an inventive picture, graciously rolling around in
known elements, yet aware enough to form its own special personality. It’s not a
perfect picture, but there were times while watching the film where the
Kubrickian spirit of it all felt like a genre head rush the likes of which
rarely finds a way to the screen these days.
The Spierigs invite the viewer
into a bleak future world of sinister dealings; a place where humans are kept in
vast storage facilities, slowly sucked dry to feed a fearful nation starving for
fresh gulps of blood. Of course, this is the saga of oil, and the screenplay
provides more than enough wallops of the obvious to make sure the back row
understands the subtext of the screenplay.
When the politics take a nap,
Daybreakers is an effectively creepy film, nicely atmospheric and
menacing, taking the vampire populace seriously as conflicted characters.
Further pressure is introduced through the monstrous mutation of the vampires at
their most desperate and hungry, turned into bat-like ghouls who violently stalk
the shadows in search of any possible nourishment.
The suspense of Daybreakers
is top shelf, marvellously stoked by the directors, who show a real flair for
chilling futuristic calamity. It’s downright eerie the way the vampires go about
their daily business, seemingly normal except for the way they stir blood into
their coffee or stare out at their infertile world with glowing eyes. The
Spierigs adore the ghoulish details and the enthusiasm takes Daybreakers
far beyond common genre aspirations. Despite a low budget, the film feels
comfortably epic, feeling out a world of vampires and humans at war, with a few
unlucky souls caught in the middle.
for the humans is Elvis, and if there was one major misstep in the action, Dafoe
would be it.
It seems the Spierigs were a
touch too fearful their oppressive screenplay would creep out the room to a
point of revulsion, dreaming up the character of Elvis to provide needed comic
relief. It leaves Dafoe dancing a jig while the rest of the film sits patiently
in the dark.
While the actor is a genius
with the subversive smart-aleck routine, the performance and the character feel
wrong for such an intriguingly abusive tone. Daybreakers is built
sturdily enough to plunge even further into this uninviting landscape. Having
Dafoe try on a Yosemite Sam persona only calls attention to itself, making
Edward’s trust in the humans all the more puzzling.
Daybreakers conjures a
convincing mood, punctuated by a sharp production design, vivid creature-feature
gore splashes, and a few inventive action sequences (a car shoot-out, where
Edward has to avoid scorching light shafts made from bullet holes, is a film
Despite a huge thespian
derailment, I found myself completely sucked into this vampire society,
legitimately fearful of its capacity for punishment. The Spierigs have pulled a
delightful 180-degree career spin with Daybreakers. I used to dread the
prospect of their unavoidable Undead follow-up. Now, I can’t wait for
their next picture to arrive.