The plague started with a bat. At least that’s what they think brought the contagion into the world; one that would transform most human beings into vampires. After a decade, only about 5 percent of the population remained unaffected. Hungry and without a steady food source, the vampires created an army with which they could hunt down and capture the living and then farm them for food. But time is running out. Food is getting even scarcer, resulting in widespread panic and starvation. And if that weren’t enough, an even bigger problem looms in 2019. Without human blood, some of the vampires begin feeding on themselves and each other, causing them to mutate into “subsiders,” which are hairless, winged, and very vicious creatures. Working for the very pharmaceutical company that has no doubt made billions off of the world crisis is Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), a hematologist who sympathizes with the humans and who refuses to drink their blood. His task is to find a blood substitute, which, until now has proven to be elusive. And then he meets a renegade band of humans who tell him that there might be another solution; a better solution – a cure.
Written and directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, “Daybreakers,” thankfully, takes the vampire film into a new, very interesting, direction. It ponders what would happen if our secret fantasies came true? What if we could all become immortal and never age? What would a vampire world look like? Half of the fun of watching “Daybreakers” is seeing just how the Spierig brothers imagine such a future. During the opening titles and throughout the film, we see vampires waiting for the trains, buying their blood-infused coffee at a stand, and hanging out with their friends. Instead of depicting all vamps as elitist or upper class, we see that they come from all walks of life. They are CEOs of corporations, such as the film’s “villain” Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) and they are the homeless. Not wanting to tamper with accepted mythology, we find that vampires still sizzle in the sunlight, they can be killed with a stake, and are somehow pulseless but up and walking around. Tipping their hat to “Interview with a Vampire,” the writers remind us that not all vampires want to be vampires. Our protagonist is a prime example. For instance, in the film, Edward’s brother, Frankie (Michael Dorman) comes to Edward’s house to celebrate Edward’s birthday. Frankie, a gung ho soldier in the vampire army, brings with him a bottle of pure human blood. (There are perks to being in the military, he says.) But Edward isn’t in the mood for celebrating. How many times has he turned this age? And how many more times will he celebrate it? World weary, he pours the blood down the sink.
“Daybreakers” has become one of my Top 10 vampire films for a variety of reasons. First, of all, I love the film’s look. It has that blue-infused futuristic looking cinematography that you find in everything from “Minority Report” to “Artificial Intelligence.” Maybe it’s overused, but, for some reason, I can’t get enough of it. Kudos to cinematographer Ben Nott for appealing to my love of cold blue tones. Stylistically, “Daybreakers” reminded me of “Gattaca,” “Dark City” and “The Matrix,” three of my favorite films. So, again, I found it to be aesthetically appealing. Second, the writing was thoughtful and, at times, ingenious. Thoughtful, because “Daybreakers” serves up valuable commentary on society and our humanity. What do we lose when we no longer age? No longer die? No longer get sick? And what would we be willing to do to remain that way? The addition of the sub-vampires opened up a whole new level of conversation, too. Also noteworthy was the way you could “cure” a vampire. That’s called thinking outside of the box. Third, the characters, especially the “baddies,” weren’t paint-by-number creations. Bromley, who could have easily been written as a straight out villain, is made sympathetic in several ways. Before the plague, he was literally at death’s door. The contagion saved him. He even tells Edward that no one can appreciate life unless he or she has stared death in the face. Considering what he faced, who couldn’t understand his lust for remaining a vampire? In addition, Bromley is a father longing for his daughter. Even though he doesn’t handle that situation very well, we can still sympathize with him. In terms of development, Frankie is another well crafted character who goes from being completely unlikable to someone we care about. Whenever you see the name Willem Dafoe in the credits, you can almost predict that his character will make an impression, and “Daybreakers” is no exception. The wild-eyed actor plays Lionel “Elvis” Cormac, a classic car collecting, crossbow wielding vampire hunter who holds the key to solving the world’s crisis. He also gets all of the best lines. Fourth, you couldn’t have cast better actors in these roles than Neill, Dafoe, Dorman and, yes, even Hawke. They elevate the quality of the material tenfold. Fifth, if you like your vampire films bloody and brutal, you can’t go wrong with “Daybreakers.” Several scenes made this hardcore horror fan blanche. Keep a look out for an early in the film operating room scene – I was so surprised by what happened, I think I shouted – and the end sequence. Very, very bloody. Sixth, I told you I liked this film, if you look at vampire mythology and ritual, you will clearly recognize how much it borrows from Christianity. You typically have clear cut dualism at the center with forces of light and goodness fighting forces of darkness and evil. More often than not the undead, bloodsucking demons beings prey upon young virginal girls. And our heroes come to their aid by using a crucifix, a Bible and holy water. More importantly, though, the central image in both vampire stories and the story of Jesus is blood. Not only is it saving and life-giving – the source that grants immortality – but it’s sacrificial. Even though, there are no overt Christian symbols in “Daybreakers,” the end of the film is all about one man who sacrifices his body so that the world can be saved. Talk about “this is my body; this is my blood.” Wow. I don’t think I’ll ever get that or several other scenes out of my mind.
Considering how superior “Daybreakers” is to the tripe that is the “Twilight” saga, it kills me to see it sink like a stone at the box office. Released on Jan. 8, it debuted at No. 4, and already, a week later, it has vanished from the Top 10. The film, which was filmed and produced in Australia, seems to have had problems from the get-go. The shooting dates are listed in 2007, and yet it didn’t get a release date – at the Toronto International Film Festival – until two years later. Let’s hope that its success improves with the DVD release, which I hope is soon. I really want to add this film to my collection. Blu-Ray all the way!