If Vampires Ruled the World
Imagine a world in the future where vampires are the dominant species. Where humans long ago succumbed to the blood consumption needs of the immortal creatures and are farmed in warehouses (think milking machines) for their highly sought after blood. Where some vampires have a moral compunction to imbibing human blood, and where viable blood substitutes are at the forefront of new science and technology.
So goes the premise of Daybreakers, a profoundly original genre story created by Australian filmmaking brothers Michael and Peter Spierig who cut their teeth some years ago with the campy, but successful zombie flick, Undead. They’ve clearly honed their skills and stepped up their game since then, so expect this one to propel the duo into the mainstream.
In Daybreakers, the Spierigs stick to the industry standard vampire rulebook of what we’ve always known about the creatures. But they sprinkle in just enough original smarts to create a new take on a very established form. Local coffee shops serve blood-tinged coffee, cars are outfitted with camera navigation and retractable sun shields for daylight driving, and soldiers equipped with welding helmets and light-tight uniforms scour the land for roving bands of humans.
Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), a vampire hematologist with a weighty conscience, toils the night away (remember, they’re vampires) at Bromley industries, a blood-sucking (the irony is not lost on us) corporate entity, hoping to become the first to create an artificial blood substitute to sustain the growing vampire population.
At the end of the worknight, Dalton and the hordes of other working vamps (identified by their glowing irises), scurry to their perfectly appointed little homes in the ‘burbs as public service alarms warn of one hour remaining until daybreak. Things look remarkably as they do today. In fact, TV news stations are still fear mongering with coverage of dwindling worldwide resource stockpiles and undesirables who wander the streets endangering the “normal” citizens. Only difference involves the resources being human blood, and the undesirables are the blood-deprived “sub-siders” who, without a blood-rich diet, degrade into ravenous bat-like creatures with extremely poor dispositions.
Dalton’s panicked search for a vampirism cure leads him to a roving band of resistance fighters -- humans determined to survive by outwitting their immortal rulers. They’re led by a former vampire named Elvis (Willem Dafoe) who claims to know of a cure for immortality. Dafoe is brilliant as the tough-talking southern boy with a penchant for repairing classic muscle cars. It would be easy to take the role straight into ham territory, but Dafoe plays it absolutely, with the perfect amount of restrained gusto.
The Spierigs get the most from their other actors as well. Daybreakers is certainly not about the acting, but even so, we get some very nice turns from a couple of established veterans and some up-and-comers as well. Hawke is solid as the reluctant vampire. He’s aware of where the world is headed with vamps at the helm, and is successful at convincing us that perhaps all vampires aren’t content with their immortality. Sam Neill comes across rapturously evil as the head of Bromley Industries. He wears a velvet-collared tuxedo jacket that would make Mr. Lugosi proud. Australian actresses Claudia Karvan and Isabel Lucas play tough heroine and vulnerable rebel, respectively, and hold their own among the veterans.
This vampire film should be well accepted by American audiences. It’s been in the can for a couple of years now, but was released at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. Those who like to sit back and take in their horror without much thought can certainly do that. But Daybreakers will also satisfy the thinkers in the audience. It’s got both style and smarts. Like the old classic sci-fi monster movies of the ‘50s, the film has plenty of clever social relevance and biting political commentary mixed into the pot of gore and violence.
(Released by Lionsgate and rated “R” for strong bloody violence, language and brief nudity.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.