These are the things I think about when I watch science fiction — and trust me, though the horror crowd will want to hold onto it because the film has a lethal, gory seam to its bloodsucker proceedings, DAYBREAKERS is at its core a sci-fi film that happens to be about vampires. It also happens to be a pretty damned good film. Yes, it’s leagues better than their resourceful but lacking, low-budget zombie opus UNDEAD, but more importantly, the Spierig brothers’ script for DAYBREAKERS is legitimately concerned with the unsustainable state of a nocturnal, plasma-centric economy and a whole host of other problems that come with a world over-run with vampires, including but not limited to inter-species vampirism and the huge number of forest fires caused by transformed animals too stupid to realize that if they run out into the forest during daylight they’re going to burst into flames.
For someone like me, someone who cares about the little touches like that, DAYBREAKERS is an ideal blend of thought and action. And though ideal for me, that may be a problem for others considering DAYBREAKERS is perhaps lighter on the horror and action foundations than one might hope for. It’s also not flawless on the thought side, either, but it makes very noble strides into territory that no vampire film has gone before with an undead heart in the right spot every step of the way. Ethan Hawke is suitably morose in the role of Edward, a human-sympathizing corporate hematologist who refuses to drink 100% human blood, who only wants to convince his overlords that unless a blood substitute is found (and it isn’t likely), plasma-deprivation is going to turn all of the civil vampires on Earth into ravenous, uncontrollable winged creatures of blood lust.
By a twist of fate, Edward gets to know a small band of rogue humans led in part by Elvis (Willem Dafoe), a man who used to be a vampire until he discovered, by accident, a cure for the fanged affliction. And so the conflict is born between Edward, his new human friends and his old vampire overlords. It’s not an unfamiliar triangular conflict, particularly when family members start getting involved, but any predictability as far as how things are going to turn out is suppressed by how refreshing the vampiric setting, especially its cure, is.
Now all this talk of thought and cures should not detract from the fact that when DAYBREAKERS wants to spill some blood, it’ll spill it by the gallon, and when it wants to transform a person into a horrible bat-man, it’ll do so by the legion. The creature design is, for lack of a more cerebral term, wicked and the full body prosthetics used to pull it off should put a smile on the face of any fan of practical effects work. CGI in the film is largely confined to use in construction of the Spierig’s special brand of future, which for someone like me is the best element of the film. Everything from the cars the dominant race drives to the coffee shops they stop at to the houses they live in is tailor made to ask the “what if?” question of a world run by vampires. It’s really great, really detailed work on the part of the Spierig brothers and I wish that films with more strictly sci-fi conventions would actually be this imaginative in their world building (here’s look at you, DISTRICT 9).
Though most will surely laugh when Dafoe first begins to introduce himself as the overtly southern Elvis, he’s actually the most interesting character in the film, which is kind of a shame considering he’s not the main character. That’s okay, though, because Ethan Hawke is likable enough on his own, but even still, he’s almost always on screen with either Dafoe or Sam Neil (as his tyrant boss at the blood corporation), which means audiences are almost always going to have a grin on their face. Mix that persistent grin with a few moments that might just blow your mind, and DAYBREAKERS is one hell of a memorable film. If you love all things vampires, you’re going to go apeshit for its ideas of an all-vampire world. If, like me, you’ve grown weary of our own real-world society that’s recently fallen back in love with the night walkers, DAYBREAKERS is thankfully unlike any other vampire property on the market right now.
It’s win-win for everyone.