Okay, it’s a rubbish title.  Let’s get that out of the way to start with.  A bad, horrible, clumsy, committee-approved title.  Daybreak?  Nice.  Break of Day?  Classy.  Daybreakers?  Pah.  Gack.  Spit.  That’s the name of a duff straight-to-video action pot-boiler from the early nineties.  Starring Jeff Fahey or Wings Hauser.  So offensive is the clumsiness of this title it almost stopped me watching the film.  Only the presence of Willem Dafoe tempted me.  He’s usually very reliable.  Even if this were one of those rare films he did just for the money … it must have some value, surely it can’t be another Mr Bean’s Holiday (2007) or XXX2 (2005) … can it?
No, it can’t.  What it can be is another Gattaca (1997) mixed with more than a dash of the first Blade (1998) and just a hint of the ubiquitous Matrix (1999).  Not a bad gene pool from which to draw inspiration. 

The film is set ten years in the future and the world is entirely vampire.  It takes the vision we see in, say, Alan Ball’s True Blood TV series (and the Charlaine Harris books on which it is based) and extends that into a logical future where humans are a minority, grown in factory farms and bled for food.  The vampire world is trundling along very successfully, having completely replaced our society with a dark mirror-image of it.  Almost everyone seems happy with their immortality.  Almost everyone.
Cue Ethan Hawke – who doesn’t make nearly enough films – as Edward, Chief Haematologist of the Bromley Marks corporation which provides the vampire world with all the blood it needs – now refined as a supplement to add into coffee in place of milk.  Hawke is very good at looking worried and Edward is very worried.  Worried about the shortage of living humans and their blood, worried about the failure of his experiments to refine an artificial blood substitute but, above all, worried about the morality of reducing humans to food animals.  His boss, played with practiced ease by the always malevolent Sam Neill, has no such qualms. 
The Grendel at their gates is the effects of starvation.  If a vampire goes without blood for long enough, he becomes ‘a sub-sider’, a bestial creature with little remaining intelligence and a powerful, overwhelming thirst.  I would make a joke about the film being made in Australia here, but I can’t think of one.
Inevitably, then, there will be a human resistance movement which Edward stumbles across, as you do, and finds himself adopted by them.  They are led by Willem Dafoe who has a secret, the key to unlocking the problem that both the vampires and the last remaining humans face.
Visually, the film has a very classy, noirish feel to it, with some particularly striking images – such as the queue of vampire commuters standing on the tube station, all in silhouette, their eyes reflecting like cats.  Even though this film cloaks itself in the guise of science fiction, it is undeniably horror – with enough moments of explosive blood-splattered violence to keep most gore-hounds happy.
The work that writers/directors The Spierig Brothers have done in conceiving and then executing a modern world designed for vampiric convenience is very clever indeed.  If you can’t go out in daylight, then the preferred mode of public transport will be the subway.  Obvious. The only problem I had with all of this is that ten years just doesn’t seem long enough for almost everyone in the world to adjust to such a massive change.  Civilisation seems to have fallen then risen again with astonishing speed.
The dénouement manages to be satisfyingly cunning while addressing a fundamental flaw in Dafoe and Hawke’s plan (that I can’t discuss without giving too much away) and gives vent to some spectacularly explosive blood-letting, all-the-while leaving the way open for a sequel.
All-in-all Daybreakers is a refreshing and enjoyable take on a clapped-out old sub-genre which reminds us that, however prettily and romantically vampires may have been re-packaged for selling to a naïve teen audience,  they are, essentially, parasites that see humans as food.  Relationships with them will, given time, always devolve to the relationship a butcher has with his cow.
Writer/Dir: Michael and Peter Spierig
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill,  Isabel Lucas
Dur: 98 mins
Cert: 15 (six seconds were cut from the film in order to secure this certificate, you can find information about that at the BBFC website here.
Image © Lionsgate

1 comment:

  1. As much as I would like to offer my own critique of Daybreakers I cannot as I'm in absolute agreement with your review. Dammit!

    Wait.There is on thing I can add. Ethan Hawke in the above still looks likes he's going to a fancy dress party as the Amish kid out of Witness.