No matter how you cut it, the early 2010 release Daybreakers is a B-movie. Well, I suppose in the very traditional sense it isn’t, as it was never meant to be seen as part of a double feature (although it would probably work well in that format). But by any other standard it fits the bill: it’s (mostly) unpretentious genre-fare made on a relatively low budget with minimal ambitions beyond some very basic social commentary. This isn’t meant as an insult but as description. I don’t think anyone making this movie had any intentions of changing the world and the fact that the movie works as well as it does given the circumstances should be a compliment.
The film is set in a vague future in which vampires have overrun the world and humans who aren’t being farmed for their blood are disparate refugees. Sounds like a pretty good deal for the vampires, who can live forever in comfort without having to hunt people to survive. The problem of course is that the human population is not very big anymore and the blood supply is depleting rapidly. That’s an even bigger problem than it sounds like, because in this world the hunger for human blood turns vampires into feral bat-like monsters rather than merely killing them. Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), the leader of the world biggest blood supplier, has decided to address this problem by commissioning the creation of a synthetic blood substitute. The main scientist behind this is Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), someone who never really wanted to be a vampire and who has a lot of sympathy for the plight of humanity. After a meeting with human resistance leaders Audrey (Claudia Karvan) and Elvis (Willem Dafoe) show him a new way, but there’s no way of knowing whether the vampiric masses will accept it.
Modern vampires are a dime-a-dozen in movies but they’re almost always depicted as a mysterious underworld that the rest of the world is more-or-less oblivious too. As such, the idea of a modern world that’s completely dominated by vampires is pretty clever and the ins and outs of this society are easily the most enjoyable aspect of the movie. For example, the vampire’s cars have a “daylight driving mode” that blacks out all the windows and allows the vehicle to be driven via cameras when the sun is out. That’s pretty neat, but what’s even more interesting is the blood economy that seems to run the world. The political allegory is pretty clear: blood is described as a “non-renewable resource” that requires either an “alternate source.” Comparing modern society’s need for oil to vampiric bloodlust is perhaps a bit daring if you think about it in its plainest terms, and as unsophisticated as the allegory is it plays pretty well into the B-movie tradition of social commentary.
All that’s good, but Daybreakers often feels like it’s a lot of clever ideas like that in search of a better movie. This definitely isn’t really a horror movie, there are a couple of jump scares here and there, but I don’t expect this to scare anyone who isn’t extremely squeamish. The film acts more as an action film, but the action scenes here rarely rise above the level of “moderately exciting.” All of it is also marred by some very sub-par CGI and by really bland blue tinted music video-like cinematography. The acting also isn’t all that great; there are a lot of good actors here but none of them seem to be taking their jobs very seriously. Sam Neill and Willem Dafoe mostly just chew scenery to the nth degree while Ethan Hawke doesn’t seem to have the drive to turn his lame twirp of a character into something more than what is on the page.
Gibing Daybreakers a pass is a bit of a tempting proposition, after all this could have been direct-to-Syfy caliber had it not been injected with as many cool ideas as it was. That’s an impressive level of improvement, but there’s way too much badness here for it to really get away with such lowered standards. Nice try guys.
**1/2 out of Four