Daybreakers (2009) dir. The Spiereg Brothers
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Emma Randall, Michael Dorman
By Alan Bacchus
With vampire mania nowadays, I’m surprised it took this long for the Spiereg Brother’s near future concept to emerge. It’s a remarkably logical concept within the lore of vampire stories. Its Earth 2019, and the world’s vampires have turned almost everyone into immortal bloodsuckers, thus creating a virtually 100% vampire world, where humans are the minority. In fact, like the Matrix humans are farmed out for blood to sustain the vampires. How come no one else thought of this?
The success and appeal of ‘Daybreakers’ coasts a long way on this pretty cool concept. And for the most part it’s executed with enough near future reality to elevate it above most other vampire genre crap out there. But ‘Daybreakers’ is not a great film either, succumbing to its sword and some of the usual vampire/genre familiarities.
All the ‘coolness’ of Daybreakers in no doubt heavily weighted to the opening act. The Spiereg brothers establish this high concept world like a revisionist history treatment. Ed Dalton (Ethan Hawke), who works for the human farming corporation, is in charge of developing an artificial blood substitute to save the world from the rapidly depleting human blood supply. But he’s just like a civilized regular person, a 9 to 5 joe with a house, a car, a fridge, but made to serve vampires. The Spieregs have fun showing us all the details of this upside world. Everyone works at night of course, cars are equipped with UV light blocking windows, automated warning signs read out publicly over a PA warn of the oncoming sunrise.
Early on, we get a really cool sequence demonstrating what would happen to a vampire if he doesn’t get any blood – a grotesque bodily transmutation into a rabid and beastly bat/human hybrid . And an intense fight sequence is staged in Dalton’s home between a neighbour vampire beast invader, Ed and his brother thus showing us the anarchaic future for this new species.
The second act introduces a rebellious group of humans led by gruff wanderer Willem Dafoe who might have a potential cure for vampirism. Again the Spieregs engineer some rather logical vampire science to explain how vamps could be turned back into humans, including a neat 'Frankenstein-esque' transformation sequence which turns Ed back into a human.
‘Daybreakers’ shows signs of narrative wear and tear in the second half. Well, Sam Neill is so unbearably awful from the start actually, portraying his role as baddie with absolutely no personality whatsoever. The Spieregs are clear from the outset that he’s the 'bad guy'. Neill talks in a monotone robotic cadence that make the Matrix’s ‘Mr. Smith’ sound engaging. Of course, his eyes are even more freaky, thus telling the audience, he’s more dangerous and bad than any of the ‘good’ vampires. Later he’s given a hapless subplot about trying to reconnect with his long lost daughter who left home without being turned.
Visually, the film gets more boring as it clips along, employing a played-out, overprocessed 'too-slick-for-its-own-good' look. DOP Ben Nott's fluorescent, over-exposed look from the Fight Club era of music video cinematography, with today’s eyes, it feels so dated and annoying. And the constant desaturatation of every frame again is thematically on the nose – we get it, it’s a heartless society with little hope or optimism, therefore there can’t be any colour. Save for a few sequences, most of the action scenes fail to ignite any sparks. There’s much bodily explosions and gory bodily destruction, some of which admittedly got me a little excited, but the reliance of CG effects in virtually every piece of action felt that an obvious crutch and an example of the filmmakers reaching too far for something they can’t grasp.
And the constant barrage of exposition thrown at us via news footage, newspaper close-up, and a voiceovers in the background threaten to topple the Spiereg’s jenga block mountain of high concept logic.
Despite the marketing push, don’t expect 'The Matrix', or '28 Days Later', but humourless imitation of a John Carpenter movie. A b-movie that desires to be an a-movie.