Daybreakers is the latest movie to hit theaters that is looking to stake a claim in the vampire media frenzy that has taken over both the big and small screens. From Twilight (I need an acid bath every time I so much as type that name) to True Blood, the bloodsucking freaks have been a big hit with audiences looking for dark, but ultimately romance driven narratives injected with some supernatural herbs and spices. Out of this pit of shallow pandering to the adolescent and deeply delusional, Daybreakers has come forth to deliver a vampire movie with a fairly metallic set of testicles with some brains to boot. Extracted from the minds of the The Spierig Brothers (who made one of the best and funniest zombie flicks of the oo’s called UNDEAD, a film I should definitely review for y’all! Or fuck it, grab it now and watch it, it’s worth it!), Daybreakers throws us into the year 2019 (inferred from that fact that in the film they refer to 2009 as being 10 years ago) where vampires have become to dominant species on planet Earth, and the few pockets of humans who are left are on the run from the vampires military who hunt them down for sustenance. The humans aren’t the only ones who are fighting for survival however, as it is made clear early on that without blood or a blood substitute, vampires devolve into these hideous, almost zombie like bat humanoid creatures who will feast on anyone or anything that they come across. This is where Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) comes into play, as he is a brilliant hematologist tasked creating a blood substitute that will eliminate the need for widespread human re-population. Sprinkle into this mess some interesting, albeit subdued, statements about the Big Pharma culture that is currently present in the United States as well as our military industrial complex and you have a nice little self-contained flick that doesn’t require you to completely shut down your higher brain functions in order to enjoy it in full. Not to mention, it has a pretty nifty cast too. Did I mention Willem Dafoe is in it?
And while I your attention squarely on Mr. Dafoe’s general creepiness (read: AWESOMENESS), let’s take a moment to expand on how the acting helps to make this ride a bit more pleasurable. Dafoe doesn’t get nearly enough screen time for my liking (although if I had it my way, it would be a one man movie starring Willem Dafoe), but what he does with him time is captivating, especially when you come to realize he ISN’T the bad guy for once. His character is a southern man, nicknamed Elvis, and I’ll leave it at that. Trust me, he just about makes it worth the price of admission. Ethan Hawk, as mentioned earlier, plays Edward Dalton, a man torn by his sympathies towards humans and his obligation to his company and boss to find a solution to the blood scarcity. Sam Neill is Charles Bromley, the hot shit head cheese of a major corporation that service specific vampire needs. He also happens to be Dalton’s boss and is quite the motherfucker. The rest of the cast is relative nobodies, but I found all the performances to be pretty on target in finding a balance between playing it straight enough to make this universe believable, but not overselling it to the point where it gets melodramatic and overly weighty. There are even moments where some fun is had, and it seems like the Spierig Brothers haven’t lost that goofy and sharp sense of humor that is so evident in UNDEAD. One thing that seemed to compress the acting was that 93 minute length of the flick, which meant that once the film really got its proverbial engines revved and red-lined, the sprint to the finish felt a bit too fast, and some of the richness of the characters was lost in the mad dash towards the endgame. This most likely falls into the lap of the producers, studio, and editor however, not the actors and the Spierig Brothers.
Inside that hour and a half however, the Spierigs flex the muscles only people who have seen UNDEAD know they have. Not only do they write and direct their movies together, they are also seasoned special effects creators, both of the practical and computer generated disciplines. Often times, they will combine prosthetic effects and CGI (like in the scene pictures above) to create fairly convincing visuals that don’t look like too phony in either direction. That being said, this film isn’t quite the gore show that UNDEAD allowed itself to be, but let it be known that there are some downright nasty scenes in this one, and when the blood does flow, it flows liberally. Shifting from effects to lenses, the Spierigs also craft themselves a nice looking film, complete with lots of sterile looking scenes which paint the vampires, at least initially, as a much more organized and civil spin-off of humanity. There is a lot of white and blue lighting and tidy organization to the environments the vampires have erected and furnished for themselves over the years, as if being orderly and docile in appearance and demeanor can make up for their savagery and nearly cannibalistic impulses they need indulge in for mere survival. The film is paced pretty well, with my major grievance being that the finale is just a bit too rapid for my liking. Some clever camera angles and flashy shots help to round out what otherwise is a pretty straightforward and smartly captured film. Kudos to the Spierig for finding a middle-ground between the unabashed fun they had with UNDEAD, and the undoubtedly more restrictive world of “Hollywood” film making.
When Daybreakers came to a close, I felt like I wanted to see more from that vision, and that is normally a good thing in my book. The world the Spierigs have shaped for themselves in Daybreakers is a really interesting one which I wouldn’t hesitate to dive into for a second time. Granted, the story ends in a way where enough safe assumptions could be made and the book could be shut on the plight of the vampires, but there is enough stuff going on behind the scenes that it made want to see how far the Brothers Spierig could stretch out this idea. As it stand now though, it is a find piece of quality mainstream horror/action/thriller fare that is very deserving of having genre vets and indie hounds sink their teeth into.