Personal Rating: c
Released: January 8 2009
Runtime: 98 mins.
Genre: Sci-fi/Horror hybrid
Directed By: Michael & Peter Spierig
Starring: Ethan Hawke; Sam Neill; Willem Dafoe
Unfortunately Daybreakers swerved me in this direction in its beautiful and futuristic Chrysler, literally and figuratively. The film itself – as far as the genre goes – is very well done. It’s a great idea – in the not-so-far-away year 2019, (when I think my brother graduates high school) most of the human population has become vampire. This has caused a sudden surge in the need for human blood, and resources are dwindling rapidly. The city of focus is a perpetually grimy Gotham-like nightscape with a flurry of bored, famished citizens. I think this is the part the film does best – the premise. After the credits roll, we’re watching a young girl which clues indicate to be vampire, write a suicide note and waltz out at dawn to meet and greet the sun. From there we’re thrown into the bloodfood shortage crisis, which provides a nice backdrop for the propelling of the story. In the mix are zombie-like subterranean creatures that obligatorily feed on anything, a consequence of food deprivation or feeding on oneself or another vampire. (Initially I thought this was an interesting idea – reminiscent of the plot of Blade II, where similar creatures exist and need to be extinguished. Now it just seems a reminder of that the consequences of cannibalism are unchanged – it’s as old as legend. Dire penalties have been rumored to exist [I definitely don’t know] for humans who dine on their fellow flesh, also turning into frenzied monsters, and here the same rules apply for vampires as well. The core values of society are still present, even after a biological shift in the human race. Good to know.) And all of these conspire to make a great premise for the film’s main action story.
The backdrop is one of the film’s best attributes. The dark art deco/gothic cityscape was nicely designed and executed. From here I think it could have gone it a number of great, good – even better directions. Some shots are nicely composed – for instance the loitering valley girl vampires, nibbling on empty cups in the street – a nod to youthful discontent prompted by social circumstance. On one of the naturally necessary TV news clips was a quick headline about the “Third World” blood-food crisis. What’s interesting here is that it’s not just the third world. We’re taken frequently back to a café at a subway station which mixes blood with coffee (apparently we’ve evolved away from our need for basic food, but the coffee commodity still reigns as essential) and we see frustration turned riot over the course of the film as blood rations at this café reach lower levels of sustainability.) This particular idea was cinematically great – the flashbacks to this same café provide the viewer with a reference point which establishes the depth of the crisis without the usual omnipresent TV voice saying repeatedly “Things are bad…really bad.” It also take something as relatable as café in a busy station and brings it to the action. The scene where a business man causes a riot was also interesting – we see the surge of non-living famished citizens bum rushing the counter as a vital blood bag is ripped, spilling wastefully everywhere. We see the businessman attempting to soak up as much as he can, as the café workers, who have up until this point been working politely according to the rations, and having closed shop, crawl around desperately chewing on what’s left of the bag. This scene highlights the idea of global famine, where class, money, and location really don’t make hunger inescapable. TV news tells us of similar straits in the “Third World.” But at least Daybreakers ventures to point out that scarcity isn’t a locale.
The movie also goes into a minor analysis of the breakdown of family relationships, as the protagonist and his brother find themselves squared off on opposite sides of team humanity. Edward’s brother is a hyper-military stereotype, who ends up hunting the humans Edward tries to help. It’s a scenario we’re seen played out numerous timed before. It’s also interesting that Edward was forced to become a vampire by his brother, and though he played the weaker and nerdier of the pair, forces a reverse fate on his brother, and subsequently the rest of the vampire race. What goes around, I suppose. The strained and then worsened relationship between Charles Bromley and his daughter also served as a reminder about how harsh family can be, whether we’re supernatural creatures or not.
Overall, the acting was pretty good, though I have to say, I thought Sam Neill’s character portrayal was both accurate and on point. He’s a vampire capitalist (side social commentary from the left?) who monitors the dwindling blood supply, and is thrown a shade of complexity when his daughter – a human – is drawn into the film. Ethan Hawke was a little disappointing, though I think the flaw really lies with his character and less in his depiction of it. The generic group of hardcore survivalist humans played their part, as did the crew of predatory vampires. The film followed well enough by industry standards, and the pacing was also fine. A few twists are tossed in at the end to highlight character development as well.
[Whoopsies, spoilers.] But after these highlights, the movie takes a dive, with the nice-to-a-fault protagonist. We see this time and time again: the one weak link in a chain of strong predators, who ultimately changes everything, supposedly for the better. His apparent weakness for humans – I guess prompted by his desire to have remained human himself – leads him to work with a small surviving group to find a cure for vampirism. The “villain” of the movie notes towards the end a question I’d been dying to ask throughout. “What is there to cure?” Why is this sudden shift in society so bad, (blood-food problems aside) ? Why does this weak man get to change the course of things for everyone just because he was unhappy with his undead-life? While I think the underlying issues of the movie were about society as a whole losing humanity, and a need to step away from predatory and exploitative behavior, I would much rather have seen the main character do his job, and find a potential blood substitute. Given that it is a futuristic vampire movie, I still find it hard to believe that it was easier to turn the entire populous into humans again versus a workable blood substitute. That being said, the film runs down a pretty generic path and overall, story wise, was fairly disappointing, only because the background story and visual effects were so beautifully done. Perhaps that’s the main issue, the backdrop was perfected almost to the fault of neglecting a more profound story.