Daybreakers (2009)

Recipe No. 1 – take one potentially brilliant idea and pour it into a pot, then mix shamelessly with a director / writer duo who love blood, violence and CGI exploding vampires. Now you have the recipe for Daybreakers. This film smacks of un-met potential throughout, and although it’s great fun in places, dull in others and completely mad in some, it is a film that leaves you wanting something more – something greater. A solid effort, but tragically pointless.

In 2009 a disease spread rapidly through the human race, turning people into vampires. Uninfected Humans did not want to be assimilated or to accept the vampires’ need for blood, so the vampires took over the planet and the few remaining Humans went into hiding, knowing their blood is the vampires’ elixir of life. The date is now 2019 and the blood supplies have reached dangerously low levels. The vampires in charge are desperate to find a solution, as with a lack of Human blood their citizens are beginning to change into something wholly less… sane. Vampire haematologist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is in charge of creating a synthetic blood substitute to replace the vampires’ need for the Human variety, but when he is approached by someone claiming to have the cure to vampirism itself, it leads him down a dark and dangerous path of deceit, betrayal and a lot of exploding vampires.

In places Daybreakers is innovative, exciting and cunningly stylized, but for the majority of the film it is very pedestrian. Daybreakers has a promising premise that is sadly utterly wasted by everyone involved. There is a lot of baffling nonsense to dig through or to ignore, from the unexplained skyline that is constantly filled with bats to the ridiculous cure for vampirism that may as well have been Poptarts and cheese, for all the sense it makes. Yet this never really matters in Daybreakers – it doesn’t question the science or the myths of vampirism itself, happy to stick with the expected formula of fangs, odd-coloured irises and neck-biting, with an aversion to the sun and being stabbed in the heart. They are even invisible in mirrors. So senseless is the entire film that it just becomes silly, as every character is a stereotype, meaning you can switch off your brain and relax to let the guns, buckets of blood, explosions, car crashes and peanut-smuggling t-shirts whet your brain-dead pallet. This “movie-with-a-great-concept” is simply a violent riot that sags when people aren’t shooting darts into each other or having a slow motion soldier blood-scrum.

Everyone and everything seems very extreme, from Willem Dafoe‘s quick-witted Lionel “Elvis” Cormac and Sam Neill‘s cliché-spouting main baddy Charles Bromley to the explosive vampires and overblown violence, but strangely our protagonist Edward Dalton is played so placidly by Ethan Hawke he appears oddly out of place being so constantly sedated in a world seemingly jacked up on steroids. It feels like the Spierig brothers had perhaps wanted to create an altogether zanier, wittier film like their debut Undead, but were perhaps constrained by studio interference or a sense that it might detract from the already diluted “great idea”. Daybreakers doesn’t really know what kind of film it is – there are elements of science fiction, straight horror, drama, comedy, slap-stick violence, action and even war – but it never retains one constant throughout.

Daybreakers is by no means as disappointing as John Carpenter’s Vampires or The Lost Boys 2, but only because of it’s interesting premise, reasonable acting and flair for the visually arresting. The Spierig brothers have absolutely no concept of “less is more” and literally show you everything, from a vampire girl’s face melting in the sun to a head-ripping, blood squirting assault inside a lift – but because all the violence is done so inoffensively, almost childishly, it’s been released as a 15 certificate in the UK.

There are moments of quality in Daybreakers, especially with the attacks by the horrific bat monsters (the creatures blood-deprived vampires eventually turn into) and also some smart set pieces, but a lot of it seems to be concepts randomly stitched together. Characters are never with us long enough to gain any sympathy, with an evil scientist, a lost daughter and various other plots thrown in at random and then heartlessly executed without care. It is not a huge complaint, however, as the Spierig brothers manage to compact a huge amount of mythos and plotting into the 98 minutes the film plays for – it’s just a shame their begging for a sequel at the end is so screamingly obvious.

Daybreakers is harmless, enjoyable and forgettable. It never reaches the potential the premise promises, but it is still a lot of dumb fun. Violent, clichéd, confused and more than a little stupid, Daybreakers merely happens.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

2 Comments on “Daybreakers”

  1. Veronica says:

    Say it isn’t so! I’ve been waiting for this film for the longest time… this review makes it seem so disappointing. Thanks for not sharing spoilers; I’ll have to go watch it and see if your assessment is correct/if I agree. I’m a huge vampire movie fanatic. This film just seems dark + crazy in the good way.

    • The Scullion says:

      Oh, it IS dark and crazy, but also a bit too silly to fulfill the potential it had to be great. If it had taken the premise and done something intelligent and less wildly inconsistent with it, it could’ve sat alongside the vampire classics like Near Dark or The Lost Boys. Instead it’s just a lot of dumb fun.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.