DAYBREAKERS Review. [Fantastic Fest 2009]

Posted by Peter Hall - October 12th 2009 @ 11:53 pm

Written and Directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, 2009


When I first saw the trailer for DAYBREAKERS, the Spierig brother’s follow-up to their freshman film UNDEAD, I thought two things about their take on a world overrun by vampires in dire need of some new human blood.  First, that looks a hell of a lot better than UNDEAD ended up being.  Second, there is no way that a world of only vampires could have a viable economy; if blood is their only food source, that eliminates trillions upon trillions of dollars in everything from the agricultural to shipping to utility industries with no conceivable means of replacement.

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.

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rss 15 comments
  1. October 13th, 2009 | 7:27 am | #1

    I’m excited for this one! Although, did they really have to name their lead vampire “Edward”?

  2. Brian K.
    October 13th, 2009 | 10:47 am | #2

    Another retread of TRAINING DAY? No thanks.

  3. pingback

    [...] that has seen it talks about it as both fresh and memorable, or as Peter Hall at HorrorsNotDead wrote in his positive review about the movie; Daybreakers is an ideal blend of thought and action. [...]

  4. Huy
    December 22nd, 2009 | 3:04 pm | #4

    A real vampire movie- finally

  5. danlaw2020
    December 25th, 2009 | 8:38 pm | #5

    Finally i am tired of this romance shit

  6. kris
    January 6th, 2010 | 1:51 pm | #6

    i think its quite funny that the lead is called edward lol

  7. pat
    January 9th, 2010 | 11:04 pm | #7

    I liked this movie!!
    It was different, and asked and then attempted to answer the question – what if TOO many humans are turned into vampires?
    This is no romance, and the action was at times startling..
    A damn good movie that made me think. Another movie might address how the vampire plague first came about, anyway.

  8. R.J. Sayer
    January 12th, 2010 | 3:21 pm | #8

    Terrible. Thoughtless. Short-sighted. Obvious. Heavy-handed. Idiotic.

    Supremely disappointing and juvenile execution of an otherwise interesting, provocative premise.

    I will never watch another movie by the Spierig brothers. Ever.

  9. spine chills
    January 12th, 2010 | 7:01 pm | #9

    i liked the movie especially cauz of the way that vampires a presented on film rightnow. they are romaticizing them too much. finally got to c some blood and gore coupled with a good story. I don’t know what R.J. Sayer is talking about “disappointing execution of a provocative premise”. really? then I guest real horror/thriller movies are too immature for the thoughtfull romances of today there is no place for the Spierig and charles band these days

  10. TJ
    January 12th, 2010 | 10:04 pm | #10

    it definitely feels like a B movie at times, but i enjoyed it. the world and slight hint of B movie brought back the nostalgia of seeing Equilibrium the first time. new, different world with an interesting and original concept.

  11. R.J. Sayer
    January 16th, 2010 | 2:19 pm | #11

    spine chills – i have no idea what you are trying to say. at all.

  12. Cody
    January 22nd, 2010 | 4:36 pm | #12

    Well at least 33% of the people in the theater I saw it at liked it. The other 2 left very quickly after it was over.

    Only 2 things bugged me. The ending seemed poorly executed, but not so much it ruined the film. The other thing was that in the first 10 minutes they show you that vampires can’t be seen in mirrors then never go back to it again. All it served to do was take away from the whole science angle they were going with.

    I still thought it was enjoyable and entertaining though.

  13. littlemissdoom
    January 25th, 2010 | 6:47 am | #13

    i have seen it and it’s one of the best films i have seen about vampires. its scary but not at the same time and would make you jump at parts. it’s a world that all goths would love to live in and from my personal view its an amazing film and you should go and watch it xx

  14. orlock
    January 28th, 2010 | 7:06 pm | #14

    I saw the brisbane premiere last night and in attendance were the directors who spoke about the film. they said they started the project 6 years ago and ‘Edward’ was the name chosen back then – way before twilight (although I never saw any of those films). I liked it for its cheesy/tongue in cheek attitude, but for me i like the more serious films about the subject. the 1922 version of Nosferatu still does it for me because it is periodically closer to the year dracula was published. It has that sense of of ancient stench. This movie was a bit too much ‘dusk till dawn’ meets ‘dawn of the dead’ plus bits of others in the genre thrown in. Trying a bit too hard to be a box office success while sacrificing artistic originality, not to mention all the cliches. This movie should go straight to the pool room dvd player.

  15. Outlaw
    February 1st, 2010 | 11:22 pm | #15

    does anyone have any idea how many vampire movies coming out this year??…

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