(Since I'm working on a play about vampires at the moment and since one of my half-dozen readers asked why I stopped writing reviews for movies, I figured now would be as good a time as any to write up my thoughts on a film I just watched in my Netflix queue that was released in theatres earlier this year.)
Daybreakers takes place in 2019, when vampires are now in the majority and humans are an endangered species. That vampires now rule the world is made clear during the opening credit sequence, which shows a completely abandoned city during the day, then a metropolis teeming with fanged commuters getting their blood-filled coffee on their way to work after darkness falls.
In this vampire-run city, Ethan Hawke plays Edward Dalton, a hematologist and reluctant vampire seeking to create a synthetic blood replacement, since the human population is dwindling and recent reports suggest that the vampires' food supply (received mainly via comatose farmed humans) will be depleted by the end of the month. Reports also show that vampires become deformed feral monsters after only a couple of weeks of being deprived of human blood (complete with pointed ears, claws and bat-like wings).
The concept of vampires brought forth in Daybreakers is an inventive one, and one that makes perfect sense if vampires did in fact exist. In a short period of time, yes, vampires would radically outnumber humans, since all the humans would eventually either die or become converted. This means that the vampires' food supply would become scarce, then eventually extinct. The problem is also exacerbated when you consider that vampires are traditionally immortal, which means you now have to deal with feeding a species that will only grow in population but never die out.
Edward hopes that a blood replacement will put an end to the hunting and farming of humans. His boss Charles, however (played with demonic precision by Sam Neill), cares about profits and the bottom line, and still believes in capitalizing on the farming and selling of human blood for consumers willing to pay a little extra "for the real thing." What I particularly enjoyed about Neill's character is that he's much more of a corporate monster than a traditional one, fangs aside. This is one of the many nice touches that the movie offers, showing it is interested in conveying ideas rather than just showing off a penchant for gore (although wow, there is plenty of gore as well).
Edward eventually meets up with a band of humans led by Willem DaFoe who think they may have found a cure for vampirism. And here's where the movie brings in its most "take it or leave it" through-line. I won't reveal what the supposed cure is, but it may stretch the viewer's suspension of disbelief, even for a movie about vampires.
There are also a number of subplots in Daybreakers, including a through-line dealing with Sam Neill and his estranged (human) daughter, another concerning Ethan Hawke's strained relationship with his brother, and a whole subplot involving the government's callous handling of the starving feral vampire population. However, the movie doesn't feel overstuffed and handles these threads well (albeit somewhat truncated).
I admire the ideas and social commentary scattered throughout the movie (particularly in scenes like the one where a mini-riot breaks out at a Starbucks-like vendor when it changes its blood-to-coffee ratio). True, the commentary isn't exactly subtle, but then again, neither is the commentary in the films of George Romero.
I also admire that the film's writer-directors, Australian brothers Michael and Peter Spierig, delay the perfunctory shoot-em-up ending for as long as possible to continue doling out intriguing details of the world they've created (and might I add that the movie looks nice and slick, with the central city resembling elements of the cities found in Brazil, Blade Runner and Minority Report, yet still maintaining its own look). I also liked the cars and how they're set up to enable daytime driving.
Although I understand why, I think the reviews for Daybreakers were a tad unfair. No, it's not a mind-blowing work of art. Yes, it's a tad overstuffed. Yes, it's concept of a "cure" for vampirism is more than a little iffy. And yes, the final 10 minutes are as uninspired as its first 10 minutes are inspired. But despite these flaws, it's got a lot more going for it than many critics had led me to believe (hence me not seeing it in theatres during its original release). It's got a higher level of ambition than most mainstream horror films have had in the past decade. It has a new angle on the vampire tale. It has enjoyable performances (particularly from Neill and DaFoe). It has fun ideas. And hey: it also has lots of gore.
Liking his social commentary
to be chock-full of ultraviolence,
James "Lowbrow Philosopher" Comtois
Labels: film, horror, reviews