To call “Daybreakers,” the latest entry in Hollywood’s vampire obsession, anemic, isn’t quite right, but who can resist? It is perhaps more accurate to describe it as disjointed: what starts out as a noirish, atmospheric thriller, turns into a gore-laden action flick with bits and pieces of bloodsuckers flying in as many directions as the plot.
The year is 2019: a mysterious plague has spread over the Earth, turning humans into vampires. At first, we are told, humans were given the choice of whether to be turned, but their value as food has soared and as the story opens almost all humans have been captured and are being farmed for blood with the few free-range survivors constantly on the run from heme-hunting military forces. But now the blood supply is running out, with deleterious effects on the vampire population, turning them into violent, primitive bat-like brutes. Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is a reluctant vampire and hematologist working for one of the largest human blood farming facilities in the world–think of them as Big Farm-a, instead of Big Pharma. His job is to develop an effective blood substitute before it’s too late for both the vampire and human races. (Big props to Hawke who can actually act through the de rigueur golden vampire contacts, unlike Mr. Pattinson.)
Although clearly an allegory for mans’ mismanagement of natural resources and a commentary on the stereotypical evil, money grubbing ways of pharmaceutical corporations, Hawke told MTV.com that, despite the film’s message, “[It's] low art. Completely unpretentious and silly.”
If that’s the case, why use Kate Bush’s brilliant art-school-students-worship-it “Running Up That Hill” in the ad campaign?
But seriously, the Spierig brothers, who also directed 2003’s “Undead,” have missed an opportunity.
Sure, the story is slightly derivative–I immediately flashed back to 2001’s “The Forsaken” when the virus is first mentioned and humans as “blood banks” is a common vampire fiction trope, but the initial level of detail transformed this movie–the Starbucks-like coffee-blood stand, Dalton’s need to continuously smoke so as to not drink human blood–into a very “Blade Runner” type of experience. (Although, I will say I found the vampires’ lack of reflection in mirrors disruptive, because the vampirism was pathological and not metaphysical.) But the second half of the movie delivers lingering shots of decapitated corpses and bits of viscera flying about and the deeper lessons are lost in the deluge of jugular spurts.
I love a good vampire smorgasbord and good guys slaying the bad (can’t get enough “Blade”), but had the movie spent more time developing the characters and the process of finding the solution (which I won’t give away here, but will say happened much too quickly) and less on the special effects, it could have been a really unique animal. Instead it feels like a “Constantine”-ish film crudely stitched together with any Uwe Boll film you care to remember. A fine film for a cold, dreary winter afternoon, but not one that is likely to find itself a permanent place in the cinematic vampire canon.
But I have the feeling that we might have another chance to reevaluate this mashed-up style of “Dawn of the Dead” meets “Dracula” as the end clearly set the stage for a sequel should “Daybreakers” do well.