In its first 10 minutes (after a brief, somewhat pointless prologue), the Spierig brothers’ Daybreakers revels in a dizzying, dialogue-free rush of world-building — here we are maybe 10 years from now in a night-time late-capitalist gloom, all bluish lighting and rainy reflective streets, shadows and fedoras. A plague of vampirism turned things on their heads, humans are hunted, and the world is on the brink of fiscal and social collapse as the blood supply (ahem) thins out. I thought this was gonna be brilliant.

20 minutes later, production design still glorious but subordinate to a loopy tale of an Ethan-Hawke-ish angsty corporate scientist (Ethan Hawke), seeking a blood substitute, unhappy with the world, refusing to drink human blood. Vampires go blood-simple after a while, turning not just feral but bestial, and these subsiders are matched in ferocity by the urbane viciousness of Hawke’s big boss Sam Neill. For no explicable reason, when a trial of blood substitute goes wrong, the patient explodes. Okay, so the rich possibility of the vampiric corporate dystopia gets diffused, but we still have loopy genre-jigsawing fun, and a rich bloody palette of gore. I thought this was gonna be damn fun.

Well, no. I can and do recommend the film–particularly when it shows up late night on cable–as a quite entertaining if overlong and overly serious genre mash-up. Willem Dafoe shows up, and he’s very short (who knew?) but a big figure in the human resistance, and they’re seeking a cure, and Sam Neill’s longlost daughter is still human, and Hawke’s got this hawkish soldier-boy brother who only wants his love and… the Spierigs pile on so many plots and details that the film never quite gels, never quite captures anything perfectly. But still–such ambition is rare, and there are so many moments of visual bliss or narrative delirium and, at the inevitable bloody end, some gorgeous gory tableaux. Could have been so much more, but it’s a great step up from their mildly entertaining zombiefest Undead.

2 thoughts on “Daybreakers

  1. Yeah, I had pretty much the same reaction. It was visually rich and self-consciously stylish. The opening scenes do a nice job of showing the adaptations that vampire society have made to avoid sunlight, and the gore is truly impressive. But an example of overkill is a scene of a vampire execution. The idea is a lovely one: the condemned are chained behind a closed army truck and dragged one by one into the sunlight, where they explode. But it goes on and on, and we see the now empty manacles dragging along the ground in slow motion as the soundtrack invites us to feel pity. And the final gorefest is entertaining (but note that during the bloodlust, the villain gets torn apart while one of the good guys is just feasted upon).

    And then there were the inconsistencies and unexplained elements. It appears that the humans are being kept alive to produce blood (a la Matrix) but they are also being hunted to extinction. Which is it? There is a lengthy section as Hawke figures out an incredibly complicated and painful cure for vampirism, only to discard it at the drop of a hat for a much simpler cure.

    [SPOILER] And how are we to interpret the ending? The movie seems to offer the possibility of a rapidly expanding, almost viral, cure as vampires feast on the now human, cured vampires and thus become human. But as soon as they do, they are promptly set upon by other vampires and killed. how does this end?

    Ethan Hawke is beginning to annoy me. I loved him in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset but he has taken to playing these perpetually bewildered, indecisive and angst-ridden characters. You just want to slap him in this movie. He needs to man up for a change, or at least do the vampire equivalent.

    There are hints of a movie that is more interested in exploring the complex hierarchies of vampire society (the reaction of vampires to those of their number that become feral), but they are never developed.

  2. I just watched this again, and I had exactly the same reaction (I’m nothing if not consistent), but I still think more people should watch this movie if only for the style and the cleverness of its central conceit. It is steaming instantly on Netflix.

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