Movie Review – Daybreakers (2010)

by NIR SHALEV

In 2003, Australia’s Spierig Brothers wrote and directed a very low budgeted movie called Undead. It was a quirky and gory zombie horror/comedy that I hated because it was far too silly for its own good, although it seemed like everyone else that had heard of it and seen it liked it a lot and it’s since gained a quaint cult status. Now they’ve made Daybreakers, which to my mind is a vast improvement but still not all that good of a movie.

The year is 2019 and the world is mostly populated by vampires; most of the remaining human population is maintained in a comatose state by a large corporation, Bromsley Marks to make it more efficient to harvest their blood. Their chief hematologist is Edward (Ethan Hawke). He hates the idea of harvesting humans, especially seeing how few are left. He performs his task solemnly, and is on the verge of finding a “blood substitute.” One day, or I should say night, he is informed by Mr. Bromley (Sam Neill) himself that the amount of blood left would only be able to feed the entire city for a month. Another problem is the small but growing population of “under dwellers,” vampires who haven’t drunk blood in so long that they are deteriorating into the winged, man-sized vampire bats that we see in many horror fantasy films. Following that state is complete cell degeneration and a second death.

The first forty minutes are really strong and well crafted but after that point the movie begins to lose momentum in sophistication and theme. Edward meets the human resistance, a small group that claims to be human after having been vampires for years. And thus the question arises: would most vampires prefer to continue looking for blood substitutes or be human again for a short period of time. The corporate world doesn’t even give the citizens an option and the action/horror movie cliches kick into gear. Finally, the third act is extremely gory and action packed and eventually, sadly anticlimactic.

Most of the film is very good looking (which I could tell despite a bad projectionist that caused some of the special effects to look exceptionally bad while the film was even sometimes out of focus). It accomplishes a lot without trying too hard. The look of the film for the most part is a fascinating mixture of darkness and polished surfaces. A lot of contrast is used for aesthetic value and the vampire world is made of metal and cement. Every building in the city has connecting bridges and the vampires have a “subwalk,” underground tunnels that enable them to walk to their destinations during the day. Cars have heavily tinted windows and, because vampires cast no reflection, compact cameras inside and out allowing them to drive during the day. It is also the future so they have touch-screen pads, laser scanners, and futuristic cars that look similar to ours but with more simplicity. Aside from the corporate world we see the police force and it’s an intriguing mixture of the contemporary, Kevlar bulletproof vests and batons and good ‘ol fashioned 1930’s and 1940’s G-Men, with their trench coats and fedoras.

Ethan Hawke is really good as Edward. He’s always focused and never goes over the top. As a matter of fact he downplays his character to a great effect. Willem Dafoe plays Lionel “Elvis” Cormac; he doubles as the leader of the human resistance and the comic relief. Sam Neill is always good and even here, where he speaks slowly and always around the point. But alas, good actors can’t save bad plot developments.

Daybreakers can be thought of as an epilogue to Richard Matheson’s novella I Am Legend. Here is an original premise and a remarkably unique look and spin on vampire films, but it does still succumb to Hollywood clichés. But two good things came out of it: 1) I had won the tickets online to see it for free and 2) in the theater was a raffle and I won the film’s soundtrack and a metal water bottle. It was a good night after all.

2 1/2 stars

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Possibly related posts: (Commentary Track generated)

Cinematic vampires are hard to kill in more than one sense. Just look at Blade: Trinity and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.

5 responses to “Movie Review – Daybreakers (2010)

  1. Crappy ending and most of the plot, but I dig the world they made. The art style and everything really worked well and exploding vampires were lots of fun.

  2. That’s basically it. Even though it’s a low budget film and I could easily tell so with almost every shot, the concept of the film and Ethan Hawke’s performance are almost good enough to recommend the film. Almost.

  3. The finish really was weak, but I still enjoyed the movie enough to recommend it to a fan of the genre. The premise was good (lots of clever touches in the city retrofitted for vampire living) and I liked the performances by Hawke and Neill. It also avoided some of the conventions I dislike in vampire movies. Mostly though I enjoyed it for the visuals. I’d like to see what the Spierig Bros. could do with a stronger script.

  4. One of the oldest tricks in the genre is to have the vampires support themselves by running a blood bank. This is a clever riff on the idea, most effective in the opening minutes when newspaper kiosks and city signage establish the setting. The color palette, with the blues lacking a red shift, is very well done.

  5. So it’s agreed: the color schemes, the cinematography, the ideas in the story, and some of the performances in the film are what make it JUST good enough to watch. But the second half of the movie almost, singlehandedly ruins the entire film…

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