Daybreakers (2009)

DaybreakersReviewed by Mike Cameron, The Substream

Starring Willem Dafoe, Ethan Hawke, Isabel Lucas, Sam Neill

Directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig

Building on the genre-clash crossover theme that was solidly established the first night of TIFF’s Midnight Madness with the slasher flick cum teen girl comedy Jennifer’s Body, programmer Colin Geddes has delivered another interesting hybrid: the futuristic, sci-fi-vampire film Daybreakers.

Set ten years into the future after a bat-spawned vampire plague has converted the vast majority of humans into blood-sucking chain-smoking nocturnal regular Joes who have to shave by watching themselves in a video feed, Daybreakers is directed by the twin Spierig brothers. They’re Midnight Madness vets, these dudes, as their last film (2003’s Undead) famously closed out the beloved Uptown theatre here in Toronto, the still-mourned theatre that was home to the midnight TIFF screenings before they moved to the cavernous, impersonal and enormous Ryerson Hall.

Ethan Hawke plays vampire Edward, the reticent, kind-hearted Chief Hematologist of the giant multi-national corporation tasked with farming the remaining few humans for their blood and developing a substitute to feed the billions of vampires teetering on the edge of starvation as resources dwindle. The film is a neat enough allegory on any number of take-your-pick conservation issues – food, water, oil; one of the things that makes the film work is that it’s sci-fi of the best kind, true speculative fiction that talks about what’s happening now, or could happen soon, through a lens that both abstracts it slightly and makes it easier (if at times much too much and too obvious) to see. The Spierig bros’ film is entertaining from the start; it takes an immediate heart-warming leap into territory any genre film-lover will like. The film says, “OK, this is a vampire movie, it’s in the future, the humans lost, the vampires have their own society now“; and instead of just telling that story, the story of the battle, Daybreakers takes that as pat and asks, “OK, now that you’ve accepted that in the prologue, what happens to vampire society when it runs out of blood?

It’s joyous just in its premise, so reminiscent and redolent of true movie-monster-nerd basement fantasy conversations about who would win between Dracula and Predator or what would happen if the Nazis had werewolf soldiers that any number of technical shortcomings, like a jumbled, poorly paced and overlong second act or a handful of not-very-good performances can be overlooked easily and gladly. While much of the film feels (and not just due to the presence of Ethan Hawke, who oddly spends the last half an hour of the film looking exactly like Han Solo) like vampire Gattaca as the machinations of the rebel-underground-vs-evil-corporate-overlords-and-there’s-also-a-family-betrayal-subplot revolve, there are a handful of truly scary, truly sublime scenes of the best kind of vampire carnage, gory and stylish and terrifying.

For lovers like me of genre freakouts, Daybreakers offers a flawed but thoroughly enjoyable, happy-making trip, one foot firmly in vampire flick tradition and the other in entertaining, creative and original speculative territory. I was sold the moment I didn’t see Ethan Hawke’s reflection in the rear view mirror of a sleek, futured-up Chevy cruising through the best Blade Runner future two Australian indie filmmaker brothers could create.

4 out of 5

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  • LifeMi

    I’d agree with the four out of five. Personally I thought this could have been the 28 Days Later of vampire films, but it lacked the social commentary and subtext. Still, a bloody good time at the theatre and hopefully a sign of good things to come for the rest of the year (probably not, though).

  • frank_dracman

    Daybreakers was more than I expected. We went in with cautious optimism and came out happy. The story was original enough to keep my interest and (not that I was actively looking) had no glaring plotholes to detract from the experience.
    While not an all out gore fest, there were some great gooey fun near the end. The rest of the movie had a nice, almost film-noir look to it at night that contrasted with the bright, inviting day scenes.
    4 out of 5 is a fair rating and I hope people will give it a chance. We could use more films like these and less sparkly vampires, thank you very much.

  • Avid Fan

    Very excited for this movie. Excellent review, thanks.