I liked almost everything about Daybreakers except the actual movie itself. It’s one of those projects that probably worked better on the page than it does on the screen. It’s got everything going for it: Trendy subgenre; brilliant concept; beautiful cinematography; menacing creatures; dystopian future; political parallels; lots of gorgeous, spewing blood; sometimes effectively cheesy dialogue; and Willem Dafoe, playing on the other side of his Shadows of Vampire fence. The Spierig Brothers, who directed, even more than competently execute their vision of Daybreakers.
The problem, unfortunately, is that it’s the wrong vision, or more correctly, the entire movie strikes the wrong tone. It’s too muffled; the pace is too slow; and, more than anything, it suffocates under the directors’ punishing restraint. It’s lifeless and cold. It fails to make an emotional connection. It’s inert. It’s just not a very much fun or a particularly entertaining film.
Dystopic films have to strike the right balance between the sterility of the future and the need to breathe some life into the movie (see Gattaca for a good examplre). The Spierig Brothers get the vampire dystopia right — I really like the idea of huge corporations farming human blood for a mostly vampire population. But there’s no razzmatazz, no charisma, no spirit, no fucking life force. It needs an occasional dose of humor; a Hannibal King; a sympathetic character. Something that might resonate with the audience, that we can relate to; that might make us give a damn about the smart ideas bubbling beneath asepsis.
(If you plan to see Daybreakers anyway — because you’re a vampire completist or because you’re looking for a cure for your insomnia — it’s probably best to avoid the rest of the review. It only details the exposition, but the exposition is the most interesting part of the movie. After the premise has been fleshed out, the movie limps toward its conclusion.)
I wanted a reason to like Daybreakers, because there are some fresh ideas here. It turns the vampire story on its head — instead of trying to avoid becoming vampires, most of the population is trying to figure out a way to maintain their immortality after a worldwide virus (origins unknown) turn most of the Earth’s population into vampires. Indeed, technology has been developed to accommodate vampirism — cars have been retrofitted to keep out UV rays during the day; subways have been developed to allow for daytime travel; coffee comes with hemoglobin instead of half and half; and work schedules have been reversed. However, ten years after the outbreak, the planet is facing a human-blood shortage, and humans themselves are practically extinct. Riots are erupting all over the world, and the population is beginning to understand what happens to those who are deprived of it — they turn into nasty little subsiders, inhuman bat-like creatures that feed on other vampires.
Faced with a rapidly depleted supply of human blood, Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) — a vampire scientist — has been tasked with coming up with an alternative blood source. However, he’s more sympathetic to the few remaining humans, and would prefer to find a cure to the virus, instead. But a cure is much less profitable for his employer, Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), who would prefer to find the blood alternative and continue selling human blood for increasingly high amounts (see also: Oil Companies).
Dalton, on his way home from work, has an accidental run-in with some fleeing humans, and he ultimately ends up teaming with them to save humanity, assisted by the human leader, Elvis (Dafoe), a cured vampire who has an idea how to save the rest of the world. If only they wanted it.
I really do applaud the Spierig Brothers for trying to come up with a smart vampire film, and one that aims to have some satirical bite, even if it is all gum. It’s an inventive story, stylish without being obnoxious, and it bends the rules of vampire mythology without breaking them (given the genre, the holes in logic are mostly forgiven). Unfortunately, it’s more thought-provoking than it is entertaining, and while that’s all well and good for a film with loftier aspirations, this is a vampire flick. Vampire movies should arouse fear, not boredom. Daybreakers wants so very badly to be the Children of Men of vampire movies; sadly, it’s closer to a low-budget vampire Waterworld.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. You can email him or leave a comment below.