Sibling Australian filmmakers Michael and Peter Spierig flip Hollywood’s teen-friendly vampire trend on its head with Daybreakers, a gory sci-fi world run by a majority population of bloodsuckers.
In 2019 vampires outnumber humans, and blood supplies are running out. Sam Neill’s sharp-toothed corporate villain Charles Bromley runs a monopoly that harvests blood from nude human bodies connected chockablock to a vast blood milking system. Yum. Hematologist vampire Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is working on a vampire cure that Bromley and his well-armed minions want to prevent.
It’s not a reach to see the filmmakers’ satirical connection between blood and oil as battle breaks out between the vampires and a group of survivalist humans led by Willem Dafoe in full badass mode. The film’s pacing misses a few beats and the capitalist satire never quite pops, but Daybreakers comes as a welcome retort to the vampire bubblegum genre that horror fans have had to tolerate lately.
Dalton is a kind of conscientious objector vampire. He’s working on a synthetic blood that will substitute for the actual red body juice that Bromley envisions selling at a premium price to wealthy vampire connoisseurs as supplies dwindle.
The subplots involving Neill’s diabolical character work better than the predictable resistance-group storyline that functions more as an impetus for some memorable chase scenes.
With less than 5 percent of the human race left, the vampire population is protected by police and military forces whose primary function is to hunt down and capture every last human for harvest. The problem is that Dalton’s synthetic blood isn’t ready for primetime, as is proven in one of the Daybreakers’ more spectacularly gory scenes.
Still, Edward’s connection to the underworld of human freedom fighters brings him closer to delivering an actual cure to the problem of blood-fueled immortality.
The satire might not be on a par with a great film like Starship Troopers, but there’s enough social construct to extrapolate on how the film’s vampire logic reflects on a world owned and operated by the World Bank as it runs out of resources.
High-concept horror is a rarity. That Daybreakers is being dumped into the January doldrums bodes well for audiences looking for fast-twitch shocks and horrific, bloody action. The look of the film is designed around the blue-tinted human harvesting machine prominently displayed on the poster. The potent image system becomes a visual touchstone to send your imagination reeling about the ability of a society to farm its own people and what that might look like. Frightening, too, is what happens to vampires that don’t get their daily doses of blood; they transmogrify into pale, winged bat-like monsters called Subsiders whose quick movements spell trouble.
The film’s greatest achievement could be that it keeps Generation X poster-boy Hawke in an action setting where his modulated style gets more traction than two Nicolas Cages put together.
Daybreakers might be nothing more than a guilty pleasure drawn of exploding bodies in a hermetic atmosphere of shiny surfaces, but when vampires drink blood from glasses and mugs you know you’re on equal footing with Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. “The blood is the life, Mr. Renfield.” Grade: B-
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