Movie Review: Daybreakers
By Matthew Huntley
January 19, 2010

No one should ever be too surprised when Willem Dafoe goes crazy.

Amidst the vampire craze currently sweeping pop culture, Daybreakers attempts to shine a new light. It's far from being the most original film, but it's ambitious and intelligent. You get the sense it actually wants to be about something. And for once it doesn't glorify the thought of being a vampire. In this day and age, that's not too common.

In the year 2019, it's not too fun being any race - be it vampire or human. Vampires have taken over the world and started farming humans for blood. We learn it all started "with a single bat" and that humans were offered a choice to switch over to the undead, but those who resisted were captured and harvested for their vital fluid. The details surrounding this epidemic are a tad sketchy, but the real issue is that vampires are now facing a food crisis because less than five percent of the human population remains and the world's leading blood supply company, Bromley Marks, has yet to create a viable alternative. They've learned that without human blood, vampires devolve into primitive creatures with wings, pointy ears and an insatiable appetite.

The leading hematologist at Bromley Marks, Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), is an outcast at the organization because he doesn't want to find an alternative to human blood, but rather a cure to vampirism altogether, much to the dismay of his boss (Sam Neill). Edward didn't sign on for this lifestyle; he was "saved" by his younger brother (Michael Dorman) so he wouldn't be killed later on.

Incidentally, Edward meets a human resistance group, led by Audrey (Claudia Karvan) and Elvis (Willem Dafoe), who want his help because they believe they've found a cure by accident. Apparently, if vampires are exposed to the sun and burn just briefly enough, they can turn human again. If you don't believe me, just look at how their eyes.

Daybreakers contains all the usual characteristics of vampire thrillers - dark photography, loud shrieks, car chases, blood sucking, flesh ripping - but these aren't the main draw. In fact, they only seem present because the studio wanted to make sure they appease die-hard fans of the genre, which wouldn't be complete without some perfunctory action and violence.

But writer-directors Michael and Peter Spierig are geared more toward an intelligent social commentary, using vampire mythology as their spring board. There are heavier themes at work here, like the ideas of food shortages; over-consumption; public unrest and anarchy; moral choices in the face of serving the greater good; and corporate malfeasance. The Spierig Brothers only take these themes so far before caving into routine action and gore (which is quite effective), but the thoughtful and challenging material does have more screen time. I wish the movie had really dealt with these issues instead of merely nodding to them, but if the movie's a success, I'm expecting greater, more in-depth projects from these twin-brother filmmakers.

For now, Daybreakers is entertaining enough on a visceral level, but also smart enough so it gives us something to think about after we leave the theater. It helps that the actors - Hawke, Neill, Dafoe - take the material seriously so that we don't simply write it off as fluff. When a movie like New Moon grosses hundreds of millions, and relies mostly on the superficialities of soap opera and pretty faces, Daybreakers is a welcome reminder that the supernatural can also be utilized to make intelligent comments on issues that we hope are only fantasy.