Monday, May 10, 2010

Daybreakers - Peter & Michael Spierig (2010)

The highlight of the week, especially if you’re a horror aficionado, is the Spierig brothers’ “Daybreakers,” starring Willem Dafoe, the criminally underused Sam Neill and Ethan Hawke as our hero: a vampire who just wants to do the right thing.

I’ll break the suspense now and just tell you this was a wonderful movie. So many thrillers rely on atmosphere and effects without taking character development and story into account that “Daybreakers” shows up as a truly delightful surprise.

Ten years into the future, the earth has been taken over by vampires. Under normal circumstances, taking over the world would be a victory, but there’s one problem here.

With the human population down to less than 5 percent, the vamps are running out of food.
At the beginning of the movie, we see a panhandler with a cardboard sign that says he’s poor and “needs blood.” Of course, the rich society vampires pass him by without a second look. And then the vampire cops collar him because I guess panhandling is something the undead just won’t tolerate.

Ethan Hawke, donning a scraggly beard and Amish-style hat, looks like one of the Children of the Corn all grown up. He’s a hematologist, working on a blood substitute, providing the vampire world with food when humanity becomes extinct. As it is, human blood is rare enough to necessitate human “farming,” where people are hung up and hooked into IVs and kept alive so their blood can be harvested.

Once the premise is set, the pacing of the “Daybreakers” is perfect. Character revelations and story developments are doled out at just the right intervals. We learn why some people chose to “turn” when vampirism broke out and why others chose to remain human.

Add to that the extensive political and social criticism of “Daybreakers,” and you end up with a multi-layered, frightening, funny and even emotionally rich allegory of good vs. evil in the form of class warfare. “Daybreakers” directly links fascism to classism and it makes its case eloquently, especially considering the fact that it’s a horror film.

The blood shortage causes riots in the street that recalls the kind of desperation we’ve seen on the news in communities around the world following different natural disasters.

When a vampire goes too long without blood, it turns bestial and loses its rational mind. So, as the lower-class slowly turns into wild, uncontrollable animals, they are exterminated. The film is very poignant in its depiction of these mass executions, reminding us that our characters inhabit a world where the rich kill the poor for the crime of being poor.

Meanwhile, amongst the human resistance, there are experiments going on looking for a cure to the vampire plague. They are constantly on the run, hunted by the military for their precious human, life-sustaining blood.

The mercenaries serve as an example of soldiers doing corporate work to feed the upper-class’ hunger for wealth without questioning their orders.

By the end of the film, the personal showdowns, the massive battles and the attempted “final solutions” put forward by both vampires and human culminate into a wild action frenzy that will entertain the hell out of you and make you think at the same time.

But if you’re one who doesn’t like their politics and entertainment mixed, never fear. “Daybreakers” is wildly entertaining as a horror/action film.

So if you want to turn off your brain and just enjoy the excitement, carnage and the humor you won’t be disappointed.


  1. I agree, and I don't understand why this film was a) dumped on the first release date of the calendar year, and b) not endorsed very strongly by critics. The vampire genre has been done to death in recent years, so it was welcome indeed to see a genuinely inventive and original entry into the genre. The film looked good and had good performances, and as you say, succeeded in its social commentary as well. What's not to like?

  2. I'm afraid too few of the people who make the decisions can tell the difference between a typical genre pic and a truly great film.
    Hence the lumping together of this film with movies like "Legion," which came out on DVD the same day and were release within the same couple of weeks at the box office.