directed by Michael & Peter Speirig
(Lionsgate, 2010)

It's 2019 and the human race is running out of time. Years ago, vampirism broke out in plague form, converting most of humanity to a state of bloodsucking so extreme that human beings, who are kept alive in food farms, are about to become extinct. Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), a vampire hematologist hired by a mega-harvesting corporation (run by Sam Neill) to find a stable blood substitute, secretly wonders if there isn't a way to cure this parasitic state of being.

Being afflicted with a conscience is apparently worse than being afflicted with vampirism, since in the dark, art deco world of the future, compassion won't get you very far.

With the food source dwindling and no clear alternatives in sight, the situation is about to spiral out of control. It's at that moment that a salvation of sorts presents itself. When Dalton literally runs into a band of survivors, led by Willem Dafoe, who involve him in their struggle, he learns about something far better than synthetic blood supply -- a cure that will turn vampires back into humans.

The Speirig brothers, in their sophomore effort (their first feature film was The Undead), have created a world so realized and complete that it's frightening unto itself. The technology utilized to make the life of a vampire comfortable is obviously one of the more well thought-out logistics in a film where everything fits together with precision. Being a vampire is not glamorous, not when there's a rising global panic about the dwindling blood stores. There is no hackneyed melodrama, no romance about the superpowers bestowed on one by becoming a vampire, not when corporations still control whether or not you live or die. Polished, dark and highly engrossing, this out-of-the-box vampire movie plays on the genre while creating its own unique statement.

For the most part, Daybreakers is unlike any other vampire movie that's out there, in that it's happening in what is apparently real time. It's an eerie vampire dystopia where sleekness hides decay and the children of the night are scrambling for survival, not reaping the rewards of dominance. Moody and atmospheric, with lots of exposition in the beginning and loads of action in the second half, Daybreakers is also very stylistic, keeping the film dark and washed out when in vampire world, sunny and warm in human time.

This is more of a sci-fi film that uses vampires as a metaphor for socio-political statements about greed and class systems, yet it's still effective as a horror film precisely because it stands apart from its contemporaries. That's what good movies do -- break new ground with intelligent new constructs that make full use of familiar touchstones, rather than re-issuing the standard tormented love story. It's an excellent hybridization that puts it head and shoulders above the rest because it questions our notions of good guys versus bad guys.

There are plenty of slick car chases and gunfights. There are also moments of quite good dark humor. It's not easy to come up with an original idea in a market positively flooded with vampires and werewolves, but the Speirig brothers, with only one small feature film to their credit, prove their deep understanding of their audience, playing to those hungry for more vampire flicks while offering up a completely new idea for those jaded by the glut of horror movies currently in the market. The ending is perfectly set up for a sequel, even a chain, which would prove a welcome foil to the dominance of films like Underworld and Twilight. The Speirig brothers have proven that there's life and imagination yet in their inventive concept. Here's hoping we hear more from them.

review by
Mary Harvey

29 October 2011

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