Horror, Cult Movies, Exploitation Cinema, 70s Schlock, and more! Let’s look at something cool!
“Life’s a bitch, and then you don’t die.”
Genre: Alt-Future Horror Noir
Year Released: 2009
Pedigree: Ozploitation, Creature effects by WETA Workshop;
Where I Watched: Peacock (free)
Synopsis: It’s 2019, ten years after the outbreak of a virus that caused vampirism to rage through the human (and simian) population. Now, vampires have taken over, “living” much the same way that humans do. Except for the whole blood thing and immortality, that is. Human blood is starting to dwindle, thanks to nobody really thinking about how to sustain their population, so? The vampire’s routine, human-like way of life may be coming to an end. Blood substitutes don’t seem to work, but could there be a cure for vampirism itself? Only Willem Dafoe knows for sure…
Fabulous or Frustrating?: I’ve been meaning to get around to this one for a while now. So thanks Peacock! Daybreakers is art house horror for everyone to enjoy. Vamps as metaphors for real life issues of disaparity have been done before, but this time it’s a nice blend of indie and slam-bang action.
Okay, so the first scene after the credits started me off with a chuckle; leading vamp Edward drives in to work, and we first “see” him via an Invisible Man-esque view from the driver’s side mirror of his car. But the pre-opening credits scene was heartbreaking; a “little girl” is sick of living her life as a child, never being able to grow up in her vampire form. So she heads outside and watches the sun rise…and burns to death. After those scenes, I figured Daybreakers would zigzag between playing it straight, and camp. And I was right.
As Edward, the mopey Louis-esque hero of our story, Ethan Hawke plays it absolutely straight. That lends a Noir-y vibe to the proceedings, thanks to the blues and greys of the vampire’s world. (Shout out to the excellent cinematography by Ben Nott!) Meanwhile, as cured vamp Elvis, Willem Dafoe knows he’s in a gussied-up B-movie, and delights in digging into the actiony fun. Elvis has Mustangs, Firebirds, and lots of boomsticks, and we get to see Dafoe play with ’em all. It’s glorious. The rest of the cast give performances I’d rate as excellent in any other B-movie genre flick, but beside the talents of Hawke and Dafoe? They’re all just trying to keep up. (With the exception of the always wonderful Sam Neill as Big Bad blood CEO Charles Bromley. He’s divinely campy.)
I really liked the “science” behind the vamps and Subsiders. And the link between vampirism and [civil responsibility/caring for your fellow man/homelessness/the environment] . Vamps don’t care until it actively affects them. Til that time, Subsiders are “disgusting’, and are looked at as a kind of personal weakness.” They’re in the suburbs now”. “Class 4 blood deprived citizens” Man, this dialogue hits a little too close to current events, amirite?
As the film passes the halfway point, the story goes from a neo-noir reference to our own greedy willingness to look away from the problems in our own society to an excess of shoot-em-ups and beatdowns. Intriguing characters are introduced, then dispatched almost immediately, and off-screen. Ideas are trotted out without much discussion. They’re just inserted into the story while it speeds toward its conclusion. I like action throwdowns as much as the next gal, but the way Daybreakers goes from intellectual to WOO DOGGIE!!!1!! feels inauthentic to the plot if you think about it for more than half a second. Mindless fun is fun, but I wanted to really dig into the film’s digs at corporate greed, human (er, vampire) responsibility, and so much more. And perhaps that’s the problem; there are so many themes and ideas in this film, it’d be impossible to dig into them all. So instead, they throw them out the window and go Smokey and the Bandit. It’s not bad, but it’s also not what the film’s beginning promised. So as the credits rolled, I wasn’t sad I wasted my time, but I wasn’t fully happy either.
Daybreakers has an ending prime for a sequel, but stands well as a firm end for viewers to create their own wrap-up. Hawke and writer Michael Sprireig were game for a part two, but that seems to have crumbled to vampire dust. Pity. Still, Daybreakers is an entertaining romp for horrorhounds who want some fun pseudo-science in their vampire stories. Don’t get too invested in the ideas it trots out, and you’ll be fine.
Freak-O-Meter: 3 out of 5 Freaks