Starring: Ethan Hawke, WIllem Dafoe, Sam Neill
Director: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
Writer(s): Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
Cinematography: Ben Nott
Original Score: Christopher Gordon
Running Time: 98 Mins.
Vampires, it would seem, are very much in vogue lately, blame Twilight for kick starting the trend (again) that has seen more novels, films and television series featuring more undead than you can shake a stick at, though while the Twilight films have been aimed more at the teens and Cirque Du Freak for the tweens, Let the Right One in for the art house crowd and with True Blood focusing on the more, shall we say, erotic aspects attached to vampires there hasn’t been a truly great vampire film for the “grown-ups” out there, or those with an inner child that craves a side order of action and subversion with their blood sucking eroticism. What is lacking is something more akin to Blade (the first two at least), something with, excuse the pun, a bit of bite!
Daybreakers, I am more than happy to say, is that film, set in a world where the vampires make up the majority of the population, and only a small percentage of humans left, the predicament faced is that without human blood or a viable alternative to satisy the vampire’s needs they will all eventually degenerate into the type of vamp-monster last seen in 30 Days of Night. Obviously this isn’t good, especially for Charles Bromley’s (Sam Neill) blood farming business and his research leader Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), tasked with finding an alternative whilst at the same time denying his own appetite for blood. You see there are those who embrace their vampirism (Bromley) and those like Dalton who borderline despise themselves for it, pitying the remainign humans and wishing to return to his lost humanity.
What Daybreakers does so well, and what makes it stand out from Blade etc. is the amount of original idea’s it has in such a famously clichéd subject area, some of the visions are shocking yet masterful at once, for example the people farmed for their blood is pure genius in a truly macabre and genuinely unnerving way, especially given the representation of it simply as a business to Bromley and his corporation, and smaller touches like the serving of blood incoffee are genius yet so simple. The production design is also great with the daylight protecting cars and houses having a not too futuristic look retaining your belief instead of distancing you, putting us in a future that is all too unbelievable to be truly immersive as a film experience.
As the story progresses and Willem Dafoe’s maverick almost comic relief human with a secret is introduced the bleakness gives way for a little fun and shows that, where Twilight sorely fails, director’s and writer’s the Spierig Brothers know how to poke fun at the subject matter without making it become too cheesy. Though there are a couple of instances it teeters on the edge of cheese it is always pulled back with the integrity of the actors. What Daybreakers largely proves is that on a lower budget than many big Hollywood productions and a cast of talented actors rather than just stars there is a level of authenticity and simply great performance to be found.
Hawke has long remained on the brink of stardom yet seems to pick his roles effectively enough so that he does not slip into being totally typecast, occasionally appearing in something, such as this, more high profile and giving it some complimentary depth. Dafoe is as subversive as ever, going form Cirque Du freak to Anti-Christ to this simply shows what range he has and I would argue his role here is skin to that which Woody Harrelson played in Zombieland, though much better and more likeable for it and just as much fun to boot.
Used sparingly the vampire effects are great and while it is not an action packed film what action there is, is rooted in the machinations of story and not blown up into something extravagant for the sake of an explosion or two. It is to the credit of the Spierig’s that they have turned a genre that has long felt tired and clichéd into something fresh and new, with allegories of dwindling fuel/food supplies if you wish to find them, yet not hammered home it shows that they are very much in touch with society and know how to entertain in equal measure.
Daybreakers is a real triumph and succeeds in injecting vampires with some much needed life (so to speak!), with excellent casting, visuals and a fresh plot I can’t wait to see what The Spierig Brothers come up with next.