The recent success of Twilight in cinemas and True Blood on television has made people rather bloodthirsty for anything involving vampires and, as with any trend that reveals itself within Hollywood, film studios have wasted no time in trying to cash in on it. Daybreakers is one of these films that is hoping to cash in on the new found popularity of bloodsuckers although whether it will break out at the box office remains to be seen as it is a vampire film of the action/horror variety – a la Underworld – as opposed to the more romantic vampire content of the past few years. Regardless of box office success, though, this is easily one of the most original sounding vampire films seen in some time, providing a fresh take on a subgenre that has been practically bled dry over the years. But does the fresh concept translate into a good movie and will this film allow writing/directing team Michael and Peter Spierig to break out into the daylight with their career?
It’s the year 2019 and a plague has swept across the world, transforming most of the people into vampires. Having been hunted to near-extinction, humans have now become an ultra-rare food resource. Power-hungry corporate boss Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) seeks to farm the remaining humans to maintain a precious supply of blood, but Chief Blood Researcher and unwilling vampire Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is desperately searching for a viable blood substitute, without much success. Everything changes, however, when Edward encounters crossbow-brandishing outlaw Elvis (Willem Dafoe). Elvis, a former vampire who has managed to become human again, heads a group of surviving humans who need Edward’s help if they have any chance of rebuilding their race. So, Edward attempts to discover the truth behind what cured Elvis, but with the vampires closing in and the blood supply getting ever shorter, it is only a matter of time before the vampires lose that little bit of humanity that’s remaining and all hell breaks lose. Only Edward can save both human and vampire kind from complete extinction. But do the vampires want to be cured?
For the most part, Daybreakers does live up to the promise shown by its concept. Aside from being the freshest and most original vampire flick seen in some time, there are a number of reasons why it is really worth seeing. German directing duo The Spierig Brothers, whose only previous directorial credits are a couple of Australian horror films, show us a distinctive, convincing and visually appealing representation of what a world inhabited almost entirely by humans would be like, with the entire world shown in the film being designed around the strengths and weaknesses of vampire kind, in particular their inability to survive in daylight – beneath the cities are walkways that allow vampires to move around in daylight hours and cars are day-proofed for the same reason. The film also cleverly plays on well known aspects of vampire mythology – the lack of a reflection when a character is seen in a car mirror for example – and has a number of other smart touches, such as a coffee shop that serves blood with its coffee. The film also provides a sci-fi take on vampirism in place of the supernatural portrayal we have seen many times before, something that works well even though the science does unravel a bit with the somewhat absurd cure, something which creates some incoherence in the plot late on. The film can also be viewed as an allegory, in that the blood shortage could easily be seen a parallel to real world issues such as food or energy shortages and, while it isn’t fully explored, there is still some quite interesting stuff surrounding this issue. Of course, as this is supposed to be action horror film, you would expect some scares and thrills and mostly the film does not disappoint. There are some decent scares, although the horror element frequently takes second place, and anyone who is faint of heart or weak of stomach should be warned that the film is also quite gory, particularly at the climax. Considering the low budget, the effects on display are pretty good and there are some pretty good, if not amazing, action sequences that only really suffer from not being bigger in scale. For a low budget B movie type film such as this though they are above par. With regard to other aspects of the film, the acting is pretty good, with all the actors doing a decent job, but it really is just a case of getting the job done rather than standing out in any way, so don’t expect any particularly memorable performances. As for the script, written by The Spierig Brothers themselves, it has distinct strengths but shows that they are not quite as accomplished in the writing department as they are with directing. Regardless, though, they are a directing team that shows considerable potential and Daybreakers is a film that is enjoyable, and perhaps even slightly thought provoking, and if you see it, it certainly won’t suck you dry.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
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