Brandon's Word: Daybreakers Bites Hard in the Best of Ways
by Brandon Lee Tenney
January 7, 2010
Vampires are still hot. Metaphorically, at least. And they don't seem to be just a hold over from the last couple of years; Vampires are still very much a part of the contemporary zeitgeist. Just in the past three years, the Vampire has seen countless iterations. We've seen oversexed, Bayou-Vamps, sparkly, celibate Vamps, Vampire children, religious, Korean Vamps, and, of course, John C. Reilly. And that's just a taste. And in steps Daybreakers, the latest entry in the Vampire sub-genre, tries to take us all back to the past lore by bringing us to the future. And Daybreakers bites hard in the best way.
Written and directed by the Spierig Brothers, Peter and Michael, Daybreakers is the What If? tale exploring how it might be if the majority of the world's population became Vampire, then farmed the remaining humans for their blood, and then exhausted that blood supply in the year 2019. Simple enough. Undoubtedly, it's the simplicity of the premise that allows for such complexity in the world building. And it's the world of Daybreakers that is most immediately gripping. From the very start, the audience is privy to the history of the future via a very clever, non-invasive credits sequence. Through signage, TV-news crawls, and the captivating visuals, the film immerses its audience in the world of the future Vampire. One such sign, at first glance simply a School Crossing warning, reveals the overall attention to detail as the time range listed is from two to three in the morning instead of in the afternoon. This is just one of many examples. But the point is this: Daybreakers treats the Vampire and its lore with the utmost seriousness. And it's so refreshing.
There is no glistening skin or super-speed or retractable teeth in this film. The Spierigs, by returning to the lore of old, have rejuvenated the sub-genre. Make no mistake, sunlight is serious. These Vamps don't have reflections. And without human blood, they'll die. Eventually, anyway. But aside from their chilled skin, lack of a heartbeat, reflective eyes, and fangs, they're not all that different from us humans. The world of 2019 has adjusted to the presence of Vampires. Earth runs at night. This leaves the day for the few humans not being farmed. All of which are on the run. 'Cause these Vampires are deadly. And they're frightening. Exactly as they should be.
You may have noticed that I've not exactly touched on the film's story. Well, as I said, it's the world of Daybreakers that's most intriguing. The story is fairly formulaic. Our entrance into the world is led by Edward Dalton, played by Ethan Hawke. He's Vampire, though sympathetic to humans. He's also the chief hematologist at the largest blood farming company in the world. Tasked with finding a viable blood substitute, a quandary he's been unable to crack, he's thrust onto a path that leads him to become a crucial part of the human resistance. There's a girl, of course. And Willem Dafoe, who's outstanding. Think Woody Harrelson in Zombieland. But the path that Ethan Hawke is set upon is built on a foundation of coincidences. And once it starts, there's really only one way it can turn out. And that's exactly the way it does.
There's an interesting allegory being told in Daybreakers, though. One about the overuse and exhaustion of our own resources. About the creation of substitutes that will never actually replace the real thing. About the power and detrimental nature of mega-corporations, over-farming and the importance of sustainable farming practices so as to not exhaust our own food supply or poison the supply we have. But this allegory is only present if you want it to be. It's about as subterranean as the sub-walkways built underneath the city so that the Vamps can travel during the day.
Overall, Daybreakers is a concentrated vial of fun. It winds the fiction clock back on the Vampire lore while still progressing forward with some really interesting, often terrifying additions. I commend the film for treating Vampires seriously. For treating the natural enemies of Vampires (sunlight, stakes) seriously. And for finally providing an explanation of how and why Vampires transform into bat-like creatures that makes complete sense and is just so damn cool.
So even though the story rides its rails straight down the pike toward the end, the beginning's world building is so well done, I didn't really care. The direction is solid and stylish. And for twenty-one million dollars, the film's effects are phenomenal. With Weta Workshop behind all of the creature models and practical effects, there's a visceral sense of realism to every bite and every crossbow explosion. And the blood! It's thick. It's dark. And it's plentiful. Just as it should be. So go in expecting plenty of gore, earsplitting scares, and a startlingly realized world. Just don't go in looking for After Sunset, the third film in Linklater's Before Sunrise/Before Sunset series. (Though the title does fit perfectly.) And make sure to take a Twilight fan. Just so you can show ’em exactly what Vampires are supposed to be.