There was a time when the term “vampire” was actually a cool thing. When “vampire movie” seemed like an event that you actually were looking forward to attending. That all changed one fateful day, however, when one so-called vampire walked into the sunlight and…sparkled.
The Twilight series has “reinvented” the vampire genre, if we’re putting it nicely, though “ravaged” would probably be a better term. It’s spawned cheap, lame imitators on both TV and in film and the movies themselves have stripped all the coolness away from these once awesome immortal beings, and reduced them to poorly written soap opera characters.
So it’s an understatement to call the release of Daybreakers “bold” at this point, it’s almost downright suicidal. The public who isn’t infatuated with the Twi-books are sick to death of vampires at this point, and really, what’s one more film going to do to change their minds?
I’m not too proud to admit that I went into Daybreakers with this mindset as well. I’m also not too proud to admit that I was wrong in every way.
Daybreakers has done something with the vampire genre that really wouldn’t seem possible. It made it…smart. It’s not a Twilight romance. It’s not a horror “boo!”-fest like 30 Days of Night or I Am Legend. It’s not an action flick like Blade. It exists as its own entity, part apocalypse film, part scientific drama.
Alright, so there’s a LITTLE bit of horror.
It’s a world we never really thought to envision before, one made almost entirely up of vampires. 95% of the world’s population has been turned by the year 2019, and the remaining clusters of humans are rounded up and farmed for blood. This creates an obvious problem however, as it becomes an urgently pressing issue when there are no more humans to pump dry. The side-effects of blood withdrawal are already surfacing in society, with vampire citizens turning into nearly brainless monsters that look like a cross between Gollum and a pterodactyl.
Ethan Hawke is Edward Dalton, a chief hematologist as the world’s largest blood consortium. Due to the impending blood famine, he’s tasked with the rather difficult task of inventing the first stable blood substitute, a process that if done incorrectly, results in spontaneous combustion of the blood drinker in question.
But Dalton’s path crosses with that of a roving band of humans, whom he still feels pity for, as he’s only a vampire against his will, and when he’s introduced to a human who claims he was once like him (Willem Dafoe) with fangs and yellow eyes, Dalton sets out on a new mission, a cure for vampirism.
That’s wine, not blood, making this officially the greatest hot tub ever.
If there’s one word that sums up Daybreakers, it would be “style.” The futuristic world that’s been created here is reminiscent of a past futuristic Hawke project, Gattaca, and the detail that’s gone into the society that would exist if vampires ruled the earth is remarkable. The sub-walk, the connected buildings, the cars outfitted with daylight driving shades, the mirrors that are now video cameras, as reflections no longer exist. It’s clear a lot of work went into this universe, however impossible this vision of the future may be.
The film’s moral complexity is far more in depth than you’d imagine as well. We’re greeted with an opening scene of a ten year old girl committing suicide in the sunlight, as the note she leaves behind explains, she can’t live with being a child forever. Throughout the film there are various quandaries about whether becoming a vampire makes you lose your humanity, or if the process is instead a leap forward in evolution.
Daybreakers isn’t perfect however, and suffers when it deviates from its mission to try and introduce horror and slasher elements. The amount of gore in some of the more violent scenes is so over the top, it’s almost laughable, and it rarely feels like it fits in with the tone of the film. Equally distracting is the CGI when vampires erupt into flames, which looks like something out of a bad Playstation cutscene.
Though the film is very smartly written for the most part, near the end it appears they’ve backed themselves into a corner surrounded by potential plot holes. But instead of manning up to take them head on, the film metaphorical and literally runs away from them, and what seems like a possible set up for a sequel, is more than likely just a cop out to escape from looming questions at the end of the film.
But it’s graphical and ending issues aside, Daybreakers is still overwhelmingly a fantastic original entry into the vampire film canon, which needed a shot in the arm desperately after the dragging through the mud the bloodsuckers have taken in the past few years. It goes to show you that no genre is beyond redemption if you have the right people working to fix it.
4 out of 5 stars
Unfortunately, no vampire ever thought to invent the “metal chest plate” to combat wooden arrows.