Way back in 2003 I saw a crazy little zombie movie at TIFF called Undead. The movie was not great but it did provide that guilty pleasure fun that often comes with Midnight Madness selections. The one thing that did strike me about the film was the style. The directors, The Spierig Brothers, showed a lot of promise from a visual standpoint. Seven years after tackling zombies, The Spierig Brothers have returned with their futuristic vampire tale, Daybreakers.
The year is 2019 and the world has changed drastically. Vampires now rule the earth and the remaining humans, who opted not to be turned into vampires, are being harvested like cattle for their blood. With the human population declining at rapid rate, and the vampire civilization on the brink of starvation, hematologist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is working on finding a blood substitute that his boss, Charles Bromley (Sam Neil), can market. Despite working for the company that harvests human, Edward refuses to drink human blood himself opting for pig’s blood instead. Yet even Edward knows that this will not last. His body is already starting to show the early stages of the horrific transformation that lack of human blood causes. Which makes Edward’s chance encounter with Audrey (Claudia Karvan), a key figure in the human resistance movement, so crucial. Audrey informs Edward that a sole human, Lionel “Elvis” Cormac (Willem Dafoe), might be the key to stopping the vampire starvation epidemic, and saving the human race as well.
The first thing you will notice about Daybreakers is that it is not the action film the trailers lead you to believe it is. In fact, I would argue that the overall action is rather minimal in the film. What we get instead is a surprisingly smart science fiction flick where the directors really pay attention to the little details. Everything from how the vampires move around in the daylight to how society functions in general is well thought out. The Spierig Brothers somehow managed to make a rather unconventional vampire tale while still staying within the traditional aesthetics of the genre.
While the social commentary, which mirrors both our past and present culture, is interesting, the real strength of the film is its visual style. Despite the large amount of gore, Daybreakers never feels like it is all about excess. In fact, I was surprised how effective opting for a more subtle route worked for this picture. The directors made the right choice to stick primarily with a science fiction feel instead of going for straight horror. When the film does play it big, in regards to the gore, it never lingers longer than it should.
The element that really holds Daybreakers back is the script. The Spierig Brothers try to incorporate too many different ideas into the script. There is the conflict between Edward and his brother (Michael Dorman); the storyline with Charles and his human daughter; dealing with the bat-like monsters; the commentary on corporate greed, the human resistance movement, etc. With so many arcs in the air at the same time several plot points fail to connect the way they should. An example of this is Edward’s lab partner who is the catalyst for one of several unnecessary twists in the film.
As science fiction films go, Daybreakers is another promising step in the right direction for the Spierig Brothers. Their visual attention to detail is outstanding and they once again show that they can create original tales from even the most overused genre. Yet, by trying to do too much with the script, Daybreakers is merely an okay film instead of the great one it had the potential to be.