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Daybreakers Shows Vampire Genre Still Has a Heartbeat

  • Christian Hamaker Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2010 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
<i>Daybreakers</i> Shows Vampire Genre Still Has a Heartbeat

DVD Release Date:  May 11, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  January 8, 2010
Rating:  R (for strong bloody violence, language and brief nudity)
Genre:  Horror
Run Time:  98 min.
Director:  Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig
Actors:  Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Claudia Karvan, Michael Dorman, Christopher Kirby, Isabel Lucas

Anyone up for another vampire movie?

No? You're tired of the Twilight hype, right? Enough with True Blood! Somebody needs to put a stake through the popularity of the genre and soon. Are you with me?

Hold on to those bloodthirsty notions for a moment. Turns out that a little thoughtfulness goes a long way. Daybreakers takes the genre in some new and interesting directions, but it can't memorably resolve its story. With strong atmosphere and respectable performances from familiar actors, it has the ability to jolt viewers with a few shocking moments that will satisfy people looking for some gore to go with the more thoughtful aspects of the story. But the filmmakers' attempts to cater to the basest impulses of today's horror-movie audiences ultimately work against the movie.

Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) lives in a world overtaken by vampires. A montage of news headlines during the film's opening moments tell the story. Ten years earlier, a single bat caused an outbreak that led to vampires taking over the populace. Humans were given a chance to join the vampires. Those that resisted became enemies of the state. Posters of Uncle Sam no longer shout, "I want you!" but "Capture humans!" That's because the supply of human blood that vampires need to sustain themselves is drying up, and their increasing desperation for the fluid effects even such things as their "coffee," which is now only 20% real blood, rather than 100%. It's making the vampires angry. They need their fix.

Dalton is a vampire, but he won't touch human blood. He's employed by a firm working on a blood substitute, but the company's experimental efforts keep going spectacularly, fatally awry. Complicating these efforts is the head of Dalton's company, Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), who may not be as altruistic as Dalton. After all, what profit is there in altruism?

When Dalton encounters Audrey (Claudia Karvan) and Lionel (Willem Dafoe), they pursue a solution to save humanity. All they need is the cooperation of trustworthy vampires like Edward to perfect their proposed remedy.

The story isn't groundbreaking, but it plays surprisingly well, at least during its first half, when the film's neo-noir atmosphere is reminiscent of great sci-fi films like Blade Runner. Daybreakers' story also can be read as a metaphor for the risks of depleting the world's resources. The film looks stylish, and Hawke brings a brooding thoughtfulness to the role of Dalton. That's the good news.

The rest is standard stuff. Neill gives a boiler-plate performance as a sketchy businessman more interested in profits than in people's welfare. The second half of the film includes action-movie chases and the obligatory set-up for a sequel. The best thing about the latter part is Willem Dafoe's hammy performance as Lionel, who knows the secret to saving humanity. He keeps things more interesting—and even fun—than they might otherwise have been with a lesser actor in the role.

Daybreakers isn't, in the end, a particularly good film. Its original ideas are overcome and outweighed by genre clichés. But it does take a fresh approach to the genre, and provides a more cerebral experience than might be expected. Maybe another filmmaker will take the ball that Daybreakers dropped and run with it.


Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@verizon.net.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  "go--amn" and other misuses of God's name; "s-it"; the "f" word, including "motherfu--er"; "b-tch"; "s-it."
  • Smoking/Drinking/Drugs:  Pervasive smoking.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Nude humans are shown hooked to extraction devices, with nether regions obscured but chests exposed; a crude comparison to inexpensive prostitutes.
  • Violence/Crime:  The police use a shock device to subdue unruly vampires; naked humans are hooked to devices that extract their blood; humans blood is shown several times; a man vomits green fluid and the skin on his face bubbles; a man explodes, spraying blood and innards everywhere; a car accident; bow hunting and shooting of humans; vampires attack, bite necks and drink blood, as well as lick blood off surfaces; a man slices a vampire open and decapitates him; lots of guns and shooting; a vampire is impaled; explosions; a vampire is ejected from a car, body aflame; a woman cuts her wrist and bleeds into a cup; needles and syringes shown; a person is struck with the butt of a gun; Edward catches fire several times; armed troops attack; a female vampire drinks blood from her own wrist; dead bodies in a cabin are shown; vampires pulled by a vehicle in the light, which causes them to burst into flame; a man's head is yanked off his body, which is ripped apart.
  • Religion:  Immortality is said to have solved the problem of fatal illnesses; immortality on earth is a relief for those who fear facing death.
  • Suicide:  A young girl greets the dawn, realizing that the sun's rays will kill her.