Has Daybreakers missed the vampire boat, or have these bloodsuckers sunk their fangs in deep enough to grab the last berth? Angela Burton protects her neck and picks up a stake.
Let's talk about what we know about vampire lore in movies: they have no reflection, no heartbeat, they drink human blood, and sometimes they have gold eyes and a sour-faced but moral clan member called Edward… erm? Despite some superficial similarities to Twilight’s set-up, Daybreakers gives a unique twist on the modern vampire tale. Sibling writer/director combo, Michael and Peter Spierig, have turned the tables on the usual vampire/human situation. In this world, vampires are in the majority, while the few remaining humans live and hide in the shadows.
We are dropped into the narrative ten years after the vampire ‘plague’ has hit. (Although why it’s defined as a plague rather than an epidemic is a mystery to me: from the bite scars on each vampire’s neck it becomes evident that each was a human individually turned into a vampire. Still, there’s no mention of how it all started, just that it did – deal with it.) The population is made up of 95% vampires, meaning that humans are on the edge of extinction and therefore highly desirable. Worse still, a substitute for human blood has yet to be found – at least one that doesn’t cause the vampire to explode.
Although most people are vampires, life goes on as normal – you’ll notice that same queue for coffee, only this time with added blood – just not during the day time, but if you have a hat, sunglasses and some shade you’ll do just fine outside at noon.
Our hero Edward or Ed (Ethan Hawke) was turned against his will. He hates that he’s a vampire (again, does this sound familiar?) and is working to produce a blood substitute. His ethically-based refusal to drink human blood means that he is slowly degenerating into a feral, hideous Subsider – even though the company he works for, Bromley Marks, is factory-farming humans, a hypocrisy that enrages his human-hunter brother, Frankie (Michael Dorman).
Talking of Subsiders: what a missed opportunity. They’re meant to be a threat to both vampires and humans, grotesquely deformed and frightening. I can tell you’re enthralled but wait – there’s one good fight scene and that’s it. It would have been quite exciting to see a Subsider versus vampire versus human scuffle. Instead they’re neatly eliminated. End of.
The standout performance was by Willem Dafoe, who plays human Lionel ‘Elvis’ Cormac. None of the actors did a bad job, but their characters didn’t have a lot of scope. Sam Neill’s Charles Bromley is the embodiment of evil, which is great fun until we are asked to sympathise with his difficult relationship with his human daughter. He’s simply too nasty for us to care. Bromley’s daughter Allison (Isabel Lucas) has the best of the female roles, there’s turmoil, fear, betrayal whereas Ed’s love interest Audrey (Claudia Karvan) is so boring she apparently didn’t require any backstory.
Trusting Ed was made into a vampire thanks to a betrayal and as the story unfolds, each time he gets in trouble, it’s thanks to another bit of deception. Viewers may wonder why he doesn’t get the hint. Another flaw was that the perilous situations weren’t very perilous and were quite predictable: almost every battle ended with a goodie in grave danger only to be saved at the last-minute by a deus ex machina intervention.
In spite of these failings, Daybreakers is definitely one for genre lovers to watch. Yes, there are clichés but the Spierig brothers take a refreshing look at a well-picked-over brand. In a time of teen-angsty vamps, this is an out-and-out return to action in the tech-tradition of Blade. The reversal of the conventional human-to-vampire ratio, however, is the film’s great innovation and the reason that Daybreakers should take its place in the canon of vampire cinema.
Rating on a scale of 5 doses of sunlight: 4
Release date: UK: January 6 2010 US: January 8 2010
Written and directed by: Michael and Peter Spierig
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill, Willem Dafoe, Claudia Karvan, Michael Dorman and Isabel Lucas
Rating: UK: 15 US: R
Running time: 98 minutes