In the not-so distant future, a mysterious epidemic transforms most of the world’s population into vampires who hunt the remaining humans to farm them for blood. As supply dwindles, vampire hematologists Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) and Chris Caruso (Vince Colosimo) attempt to synthesize a safe blood substitute.
Spurred on by this horrifying prospect, pharmaceutical company Bromley Marks, run by ruthless vampire Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), begins to experiment with blood substitutes. The failed clinical trials make for some moderately gruesome Exorcist-meets-Alien scenes. In fact, Daybreakers seems to make a point of being explicitly grisly, perhaps to remind us once again that this is not a teen romance overflowing with shirtless werewolves and piano-playing vampire-gentlemen.
Stylistically, the vampire image presented in the film does not stray too far from familiar conventions, in some ways even less so than Twilight. Before they disintegrate into gratingly computer-generated Susiders, the vampires are mostly very presentable and well-dressed, complete with elongated canines and golden irises, as well as violent sunlight-intolerance. In fact, Ethan Hawke, as vampire hematologist Edward Dalton, would do well to make yellow contacts and vampire fangs a permanent part of his daily wardrobe. It seems it is much more acceptable to make an edgy, gritty vampire film than to make a repulsive vampire.
Hawke’s Edward (one can’t help but wonder if the name was an involuntary reference to Twilight) is the obligatory guilt-ridden “vegetarian” vampire, who restricts himself to pig’s blood and is disgusted with himself for having ten 35th birthday parties. Apparently he is spiritually superior enough to value his moral integrity above potential immortality. His struggle to produce a blood substitute is more about redemption than monetary gain.
His brother Frankie (Michael Dorman), has no such scruples and works as a human hunter. He is deeply offended by Edward’s rejection of a fine bottle of pure, undiluted human blood and sees his brother’s conservative approach as an obstinate whim. It is only a matter of time before Edward is given the chance to collide with a group of renegade humans who have discovered something more potent than synthetic blood - a cure for vampirism. Accompanied by Elvis (Willem Dafoe), a cured former vampire, they proceed to try to save the world.
The film makes a valiant attempt at balancing political and social criticism, edgy visual effects, horror-movie gore, and character development, but occasionally has trouble sorting itself out. The relationship between Charles Bromley and his human daughter Alison is never sufficiently developed. It is understandable that he wants her to join him in his immortality, and sees her transformation as a rescue from her vulnerable human state. However it is not clear why he does so little to establish a genuine bond with her and to save her from becoming a Subsider. Since it is made clear to us that vampires do not lose their human emotions when they transform, Charles’s impassible mercilessness seems a bit overblown.
Daybreakers has many interesting ideas and features some energetic, tense editing but the execution doesn’t quite live up to the concept and the film never rises above its references. The set design and art direction are more retro-futuristic than actually futuristic. The sets look like a more subdued version of Blade Runner’s urbanistic, smoky, atmosphere, and the design of the blood farms, with their metallic lighting and rows of plugged-in human bodies, is a direct reference to the Matrix films. The overall lighting scheme is dark enough to have been designed by an actual vampire.
Although the film is technically not black and white, most scenes are almost monochromatic in blue or sepia shades. It is shot as an action film with car chases, explosions, and extreme camera angles. The visual effects are good and demonstrate an effective combination of computer technology and detailed prosthetic makeup. The transformations of vampires into Subsiders are rendered in a genuinely disturbing way.
Daybreakers is obviously trying to be a new, edgier, darker take on the popular vampire genre, but it doesn’t push the material far enough. If you look a few inches past the gross prosthetics and blood stains, you still end up with a dissatisfied vampire named Edward who doesn’t drink human blood and is attracted to human women. If taken as part of its genre, Daybreakers is action-packed, satisfyingly scary, and surprisingly optimistic, but don’t expect to be shocked, and don’t expect to see anything you haven’t seen before, other than the sight of Sam Neill with fangs.
Daybreakers Premiere at TIFF 2009
Images from set
July 12, 2009
Ethan Hawke as Edward Dalton, a vampire researcher who tries to save humanity from extinction.
Sam Neill as a vampire in charge of a corporation.
Willem Dafoe is a cured vampire who duels with Hawke's character.
Claudia Karvan is appointed to fill in the position which will find her playing a human love interest for Ethan Hawke's vampire character.
Vince Colosimo in an unnamed role, but according to Variety, he will be appearing alongside both Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe in the vampire flick.
Isabel Lucas as Alison Bromley, play the last surviving member of the human race