Release Date: January 6th, 2010 (UK); January 8th, 2010 (US)
Genre: Action; Drama; Horror
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Claudia Karvan
As a commentary on modern-day civilisation and western domination, Daybreakers is very good. As a scattered action romp where humans are pitted against vampires, Daybreakers is not too bad either. Where the film does fall on flat on its face though, is when it tries too hard to combine the two without properly answering all of the questions or delivering the most exhilarating action. In the end, there is just far too much going on.
Daybreakers is set a decade in the future, in 2019, where the human race is almost entirely extinct and the world is primarily inhabited by vampires. As the number of remaining human beings diminishes, so too does the amount of blood, the vampire’s means of function. A dominant vampiric corporation headed by owner Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) sets out to find an adequate blood substitute, while researcher and reluctant vampire Edward Dalton (a vampire named Edward? that will never work), played by Ethan Hawke, aligns with a group of humans in order to find a cure and save mankind.
From the get-go, Daybreakers develops a collection of parallel analogies with life in the present day, and all of the social, environmental and political problems the world currently faces. For example, the rapid depletion of human blood and local conflicts over obtaining the substance can be understood as a reference to the imminent decrease in water levels around the globe, along with the ‘water wars’ going on in many third world countries. In Daybreakers, cities are controlled and domineered over by a ruthless police force, much akin to the security forces inhabiting dictatorship regimes in varies reaches of the planet, where many civilians are wrongfully oppressed (in the case of Daybreakers, the humans). These are only two of a whole host of succinct and well established connections that writers and directors, the Spierig brothers, obviously had in mind when creating the film. The directors’ thematic inclusions are stimulating, as their representation of modern society works very well throughout. When attempting to incorporate select societal elements into a film it is important to ensure that the piece does not become too overawed with commentaries, and that it does not become a parody of modern existence. The film successfully steers clear of any such dangers for the time it spends on-screen. If part of the job of cinema is to get its audience thinking about issues relevant to them, then Daybreakers hits a home run.
However, where the film begins to lose its way is when the narrative itself becomes to over-run by plot points and sub-plots. The directors do so well in keeping the societal analogies in check that they seemingly forget about the actual events of the film, and the sheer volume of goings-on. Not only is the set-up to the main story confusing and does not really make much sense (Ethan Hawke’s character works for a corporation dealing in blood harvesting, yet he is opposed to drinking human blood and is sympathetic towards humanity), but before any of the main plot-points can be concluded, more and more sub-plots are added to proceedings. Along with the group of humans and Hawke attempting to find a cure and Neill’s corporation making inroads into discovering a blood substitute both playing out on-screen, so too does Hawke’s tumultuous relationship with his brother, Neill’s battle with the remorse he holds over the disappearance of his daughter and an underlying problem with subsiders around the city (vampires who feed on themselves, subsequently turning rogue). With all of these separate events divulging information at the same time for the audience to attempt to soak in, matters quickly become overbearing. The absence of many of the sub-plots would not have made the slightest difference to the outcome of the film.
Daybreakers also runs into trouble as it progresses along the cure story-line. A key event in the narrative takes place mid-way through the film which is intended to have harrowing connotations with what came before it and what comes later on. Unfortunately, the reveal goes the other way and comes across as a tad lazy and nonsensical. With that being said, this problem does sort itself to a degree as Daybreakers nears its conclusion, and to the Spierig brothers’ credit, the final few scenes are very smart and well thought-out. The film looks tremendous, with everything from the metallic, sharp city-scape to the visceral, gory horror elements mesh together to create a diverse-yet-encapsulating visual offering. Sam Neill is wonderfully wicked as the rich, oligarchical business leader who shares one or two similar characteristics with Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal Lecter. The rest of the film is efficiently cast, as Ethan Hawke (who has a vampire-like quality to his look in general) is effective in his role as the well-meaning protagonist. Willem Dafoe’s charismatic turn as “Elvis” Cormac is a far cry from his usual outings, and he is slightly underutilised here.
Running at just over an hour and a half, Daybreakers does not overstay its welcome as it brims with ideas and comments on modern society, successfully posing questions to its audience and generating the mind. However it simultaneously loses focus on the meat of events, as too many things are going on at once when a simpler narrative would have been the perfect accompaniment to the thought-provoking themes which the film boasts.