Daybreakers is a horror/sci-fi mash-up that shows us a world where the vampires have won out over humanity, but the supply of human beings that they keep in order to harvest the blood they need has dwindled to dangerous levels. Blood-starved monster vamps hide away in the sewers, making the occasional home invasion, while the plump, white-collar vampires stay high above ground, buying blood frappucinos at premium prices.
The ever-underrated Ethan Hawke plays the head “hematologist” at a super-conglomerate company that has a monopoly on the world’s blood supply. The always-welcome Sam Neill plays his boss, a monster capitalist who shares none of Hawke’s concern for the drastically reduced human population. The brilliant Willem Dafoe plays a key member of an outlaw band of humans who recruit Hawke to help them kickstart humanity against steep odds. I mention these three guys specifically because they are largely responsible for everything that works about the movie – Neill’s purring villain conveys both the allure and the threat of worldwide vampirism, Hawke’s likability makes us care to follow his underwritten protagonist role, and Dafoe brings some badly-needed humor and charisma to a pretty dour scenario.
I hate reviews that single out actors without giving credit to the craftsmen behind the camera (or praising one while dismissing the other), but this is one of those cases that it’s necessary, as I’ll get to in a moment. The other reason I credit these three actors is because no one else in the cast makes any impression – no one else seems to have been directed to be too interesting, particularly not compared to the leads. There’s a fairly significant female role, a human confederate of Dafoe’s, but she has all the appeal of a young Heidi Fleiss. I don’t know why movies in this genre (both horror and science fiction) have such an immense problem depicting active, attractive, grown-ass women, but they really do, and Daybreakers is just another afflicted sufferer from what I’m about to start calling “Dark Knight’s Disease.”
The Australian writer-director team of Michael & Peter Spierig do a solid job of conjuring a convincingly detail-oriented world of BMWs with tinted windows and underground commuter walkways, although some of these details are way more unintentionally funny than they seem to be intended. (The riot at the Blood Starbucks, for example, is a little too on-the-nose to be taken perfectly straight-faced.) I also regret how so many movies of this type insist on arriving with Fight Club wanna-be cinematography, all blue/green shadow and dingy/metallic hues – although at least this particular movie has a decent reason to look this way. There’s also something off about this movie’s pace – while a lot of stuff happens and it’s never exactly boring, my mind wandered off somewhere around the halfway mark and never totally returned. There are some good ideas here and some not-so-good excecutions.
I would guess that the initial problem scene is where the narrative leaves Ethan Hawke’s character and starts following side characters like his brother in the vampire army and Neill’s daughter in the human resistance (as cute as she is.) It’s never a good sign when the narrative fractures in such a straightforward setup. Speaking of that vampire army – I would bet good money that the scene where the vampire soliders start turning on each other is the reason why Daybreakers sat on the shelf for a little while and is only now being released. I’m sure the Spierigs thought there was valid social commentary to that scene, but the audience I was in squirmed. The point wasn’t clear, and this isn’t a good time in history for violent muddled-message scenes involving military men.
Otherwise, Daybreakers isn’t particularly bad – as I hope I’ve mentioned a few times, a lot of it is pretty damn decent. But it’s probably only for people who are already into this kind of stuff. The audience I watched it with was a very vocal one – they hooted, laughed, and hollered during the fun Kick-Ass and Piranha 3-D trailers – but while they were respectfully quiet and even captivated during most of the movie (except for those unintentionally funny parts), they seemed unmoved by the time the credits rolled. I overheard this verdict a couple times on the way out: “It was ‘iight.”
On a scale of 1 to 10 or of A to F, Daybreakers was ‘ight.