Movie Review: Daybreakers

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In a society ruled by vampires, one bloodsucker wants to help the world’s human underclass and solve the problem of a diminishing blood supply.

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The Spierig Brothers, 2009

Years after the outbreak of a mysterious virus, vampires have taken over the world. All of society has changed to suit a vampire lifestyle, running by night and hooking the few remaining humans up to machines in order to bleed them and feed the vampire population. Unfortunately, the food source is running out. Haematologist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) works hard to find a cure, while his brother Frankie (Michael Dorman) hunts down humans to use for food. When a car accident causes Edward to meet human Audrey (Claudia Karvan), she brings him into a secret coalition of humans and vampires who want to work together to improve the world they live in. Her friend, fellow human ‘Elvis’ (Willem Dafoe), may provide the key to the cure Edward has been searching for.

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Daybreakers is a strange little Australian-shot film from the Spierig brothers, the same guys who made the more recent Predestination. They seem to trade in good ideas and cool visuals that fall apart in the storytelling department. The weird thing about Daybreakers is that the entire film feels like an ending. It feels like it should be the third film in a trilogy, or, it if were shorter, it could be the second half of a better film. There is some really, really cool world building on display here. The vampire-run society is fascinating in its functionality: underground walkways to travel during the day, blacked-out cars with cameras to drive around, the expiring food supply of humans. It’s all shot beautifully. It’s a vivid, carefully thought-out setting to what’s ultimately a pretty disappointingly trite and clich├ęd story. The sad thing is that there aren’t really any surprises in this movie from about the half hour mark onwards. All the details are carefully planned, and there’s some fun pseudo-science at first, but then it becomes a straightforward action movie.

I don’t get the appeal of Ethan Hawke as a lead. I don’t think I’ve found him compelling in anything since the mid-90s. The only other American actor in this America-set, Australia-shot film is Willem Dafoe, which means the rest of the actors are doing accents to various degrees of success. Sam Neill provides a fairly decent foe for Hawke to play off, though the subplot with his daughter is gross, rapey, and irritating. Claudia Karvan doesn’t fare much better as a “tough chick” love interest with very little personality. None of the characters are very interesting. There’s some decent drama to be mined in the relationship between the brothers and their different views on their new world, but it doesn’t build to a satisfying conclusion. The last act is particularly weak. There’s another subplot about vampires who have turned into awesome-looking animalistic bat-creatures after getting so desperate that they drink their own blood that could be super cool if it got more attention. There are some really fun moments and the film is very watchable, but I feel like the Spierigs still haven’t reached their full potential.

Daybreakers on IMDb

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