MOVIE REVIEW- Bloodthirst: <i>Daybreakers</i> shows the downside of vampirism
Now that vampires are the new sex symbols (People was going to name Robert Pattinson the Sexiest Man Alive, but they weren't sure he is alive), the scenes in Daybreakers where they explode when stabbed will upset teenage girls the way the dolphin slaughter in The Cove horrified tree-huggers.
You probably won't see this quoted in the ads, but Daybreakers isn't bad for a January release that didn't have award-qualifying engagements in December.
That doesn't mean it's good. It looks good but has some script problems, and its three leading male actors give possibly their worst performances ever.
Because it was filmed in 2007, Daybreakers is already outdated. It designates 2009 as the year of "the outbreak" that turned much of the world's population into vampires. The story takes place 10 years later, when only five percent of the population remains human, and they're either in hiding or being "farmed" for their blood.
The villain is the pharmaceutical company run by Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) that's hoping to develop a synthetic blood they can market while jacking up prices for the scarce real thing. When a cure for vampirism begins to look like a possibility, Bromley fights it because it would hurt his bottom line.
Not all vampires are evil. Bromley's chief hematologist, Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), who heads the search for a blood substitute, won't drink human blood himself. If you wonder why he's not turning into one of the blood-deprived "subsiders" who grow batlike wings as they shrivel up, you have to search the press notes to learn that Edward lives on animal blood and is weakening as a result (although he looks and acts as healthy as anyone).
Ed meets some fugitive humans, including possible love interest Audrey Bennett (Claudia Karvan). One of their number, Lionel "Elvis" Cormac (Willem Dafoe with an intermittent drawl), has stumbled on a way to transition from vampire back to human, which leads to Team Edward confronting Bromley's "Vampire Army."
Family values figure importantly if inconsistently in the story. Edward's younger brother Frankie (Michael Dorman), the one who originally turned him, is a member of the Vampire Army – practically the only member, it seems, because he's in every scene involving any vampire soldiers. Bromley has a daughter, Alison (Isabel Lucas), who's insisted on remaining human. There's little doubt that his greed will outweigh his concern for her welfare.
Once the vampires took over, they adapted quickly, building an elaborate underground system for daytime travel. It must have added more trillions to the national debt, but they'll have forever to pay it off.
Daybreakers has some cheap but effective shocks and the occasional clever line ("Life's a bitch and then you don't die"). The hungry vampires are careless about wasting precious fluid in order to drench the sets– and hence the screen– with blood. Someone must have gotten a deal on crossbows because the humans all carry them– some with guns affixed– for defense.
The writer-directors of this Australian production (with American accents) are billed as the Spierig Brothers. Peter majored in film and television, Michael in graphic design. I'd guess Michael was the better student, since the look of Daybreakers is so much better than its other elements. It's a cliché that the vampire world is blue-black-grey while the humans live in warm earth tones, but there are some impressive-looking scenes for what must have been a very limited budget.
It remains to be seen how audiences will respond to vampires more concerned with survival than sex. In that regard, Daybreakers is more like The Road than Twilight, so adjust your expectations accordingly.