Like all vampire movies, Daybreakers sucks, but in a good way, thanks to solid performances from Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, who understand the key to the genre is selling the premise and the lines without stooping to cliche. In this round of toothy fun, the whole world has been transformed into vampires, leaving the bloodsuckers vulnerable to existential crisis and ennui.
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill, Willem Dafoe
Rating: Three stars out of five
If the vampire is today’s most popular metaphor for social disintegration and moral disease, we might as well be latent Victorians sitting atop a volcano of explosive change.
After all, the vampire is a brilliant symbol of our collective dark side. The metamorphosing monster who looks human, except for a pale complexion and an inability to walk in the truth-revealing daylight sun, this blood-sucking, life-force drinking creation is the incarnation of our sinful, fleshy desires — as well as the consequences of giving way to temptation.
No wonder we love the toothy ones so much: They get away with all the things we wish we could do, but social law forbids.
That said, Daybreakers offers us a world where even the vampires suffer from ennui — and not because they’re in Forks, Washington. The vampires in this feature from Aussie siblings Peter and Michael Spierig are bored because they’re not special anymore.
In this version of a not-too-distant future, vampires have taken over the world through viral contagion. The movie handles the exposition through newspaper headlines seen over the opening credits as we learn of an outbreak, and subsequent epidemic, that turned the entire human race into bloodsuckers.
After nearly a decade of immortality and sanguineous drinking habits, the vampire beings have displaced or killed all the regular humans. The only Homo sapiens left are comatose blood-donors, being farmed in gigantic racks run by the evil pharmaceutical corporation that gives the world its life-giving blood supply.
But without a substitute, the blood stores are running out. The humans are dying, and without fresh blood to feed the world, the vampires are on the verge of starving to death and becoming a sub-species of long-nailed, sunken headed monsters that easily frighten off the well-fed vampires — who see the starving ones as something lesser than themselves.
It’s all great social metaphor for wealth, power and the notion of free will, and to the Spierig brothers’ credit, they find enough great imagery to bring the underlying commentary home without being pushy or pompous.
Understanding the real horrors are the ones we perpetrate on each other, the movie brings us into the begrudging vampire existence of Edward (apparently, the favoured name among vampires). Edward (Ethan Hawke) is a hematologist who works for the evil drug company, seeking the best possible fake blood formula.
He’s close. But so far, no cigar — just a few patients who exploded after the transfusion.
Edward never wanted to be a vampire in the first place and he’s steadfastly refused to drink human blood, but when the shortage gets critical, and he’s rounded by a group of rogue human survivors, he’s forced to take a long hard look in the mirror — where he spots his growing earlobes, the first sign of vampire dementia.
Edward wants to help the humans, but if he’s to succeed, he’s going to have to solve the mystery of Elvis: No. Not the pelvis. He’ll be forced to solve the mystery of Elvis (Willem Dafoe), a vampire who regained his humanity after crashing his muscle car into a pole, flying through the air on fire, and landing in a pond.
The science clearly needs a little sophistication, but the ideas in Daybreakers hold up metaphysically, which gives this otherwise goofy, toothless movie some edge.
Because the directors aren’t afraid of mingling some over-the-top genre elements with a slick shooting style, the movie commands your attention through mere production values.
The rest of the enjoyment comes in watching solid thespians such as Dafoe and Hawke, not to mention a scenery-chewing Sam Neill, spread their skin-covered wings and don the icy contact lenses.
Good actors are fun to watch any day of the week, but a good actor trying to pull off lines such as “life’s a bitch and then you don’t die” can be especially fun.
Hardly a reinvention of the bloody genre, Daybreakers understands exactly what it’s trying to be, and it realizes the vision of a well-crafted and good-looking vampire movie — without teen angst.
In other words, like all vampire movies, it sucks — but in a good way.
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