Beginning with ultra-cool shots and dreamlike photography, Daybreakers shows promise, but with all of its flourishing potential (and tons of blood and gore) it starts to fall apart midway and never recovers. The Spierig Brothers directed The Undead, a fairly unknown and underrated Australian zombies-from-space flick, but this time the pair of sibling directors traded in zombies for vampires and daytime for night. Daybeakers is an apocalyptic vision wherein vampires rule the world that proves strong in some parts and disappointingly bad in others.
Thanks to a viral epidemic a decade ago, most of the world's population has turned into vampires (the non-sparkly, non-sexy sort of vampires), and a huge corporation oversees a sterile, clinical slaughterhouse that creates the world's blood supply. A brute-force vampire military hunts and herds humans like cattle, but still the blood supply is dwindling. Ethical vampire chemist Edward (Ethan Hawke) is attempting to find a blood substitute but it's not that easy. Without human blood, vampires are starving to death, their physical deterioration resembling bat-winged meth-heads. The covert underground consists of a few straggling human survivors wielding cross bows and shotguns.
There are some nice parallels to the stock market crash and corporate greed, but such metaphors run thin by the film's end as it digresses to the typical super-villain- battling-extreme do-gooder story. And apparently our newly acquired Hollywood vampire decorum dictates all male lead vampires must be named Edward - at least this one doesn't wear his pants at crotch level or sparkle.
Daybreakers features three cartoonish lead characters, with no real acting to speak of, just grandstanding. Sam Neil, as Bromley, gives us a vampire version of Gordon Gecko with wretched parenting skills and Willem Dafoe's characterization of hot-rod loving "Elvis" is all over the map - intellectual one second, hick the next. Sincere and pensive, Hawke seems almost bored in his role.
Beautifully shot and masterfully edited, Daybreakers' feel of a graphic novel dwindles early on. It's like the film just can't keep up with the myriad ideas it dishes out. Soon the flick focuses on a cure that makes little or no sense. But even while there are huge glaring discrepancies in the plot, Daybreakers still wrings out the gore with obvious body-ripping nods to George Romero's Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. It also scores a few points for some decent car chases, a shackled death march into sunlight frying scene, blood cocktails in wine bottles, an impressive first kill and one scene containing the best blood-spattering body explosion ever!
The big climax dives into preachy sentimentality and the remaining plot is as messy as the blood cocktails the vampire vendors sell on the street. Even worse were the schmaltzy moments accented by string arrangements that sounded plucked from TV's Lassie soundtrack. The cornball ending needed a more fitting twist. It just sort of stagnated into a quick-fix conclusion and wallowed in the blood-drenched finale. It seemed that The Spierig Brothers had a really good idea, the right stuff and all the correct moves, but when it was time to hit the theaters the film was handed over to the Hollywood execs.
Despite a lush, dark universe, Daybreakers seems forever stuck in the no man's land between sci-fi and horror. Such a shame... all that blood with nowhere to go.
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neil, Claudia Karvan. Written and directed by The Spierig Brothers. Rated R