Ethan Hawke searches for the cure for a boring script
Arriving smack in the middle of a Vampire Renaissance, this futuristic fang noir starts with the promise of a fresh spin on the genre. But once the fun of the gooey gore and slick visuals have faded, we’re left with a mishmash of uninteresting characters, rehashed plots, and Willem Dafoe.
While Daybreakers might have more tooth in its first two minutes than Twilight has managed in two entire films, it suffers from the teenybopper series’ same crushing over-earnestness.
Since when do vampire movies have to take themselves so damned seriously?
Maybe she’s born with it…
Disposing of the supernatural elements of vampirism in favor of a sterile sci-fi approach, Daybreakers asks what would happen if the bloodlust were a virus (started by a bat-bite) that turned the entire world population into suckers and left the human race at the verge of extinction.
Actually, let me back up a sec: The movie actually starts out with a scene that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie and serves no purpose other than to allow the filmmakers to say, “We blew up a little girl!”
But moving on …
Commute of the Living Dead
Vampires still live their lives business-as-usual (jobs, apartments, television, overpriced coffee chains) but simply do so after sundown and with the help of some clever devices (the daytime-protected car SPONSORED BY CHRYSLER being the most interesting). But having farmed the few remaining humans for their last drops of blood and facing a starvation-fueled mutation that threatens to turn everyone into feral winged Batboys, the vamps are desperate.
Enter Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke: still got it!), a vampire hooker hematologist with a heart of gold who is undead-set on finding a blood substitute to sustain the vamps (think TruBlood, but without the sugar-shock). He quite randomly crosses paths with a group of human survivors who have figured out how to turn vampires back into humans, and his quest then becomes not finding a food supply for vampires, but rather becoming one. Uh … good luck with that!
The rest of the plot plays out pretty much as expected, as you can probably figure out for yourself from these highlights: Evil boss with rebellious daughter … hot human vigilante chick … sass-talking sidekick … conflicted and guilt-ridden party-line brother … mountains of colored contact lenses.
Ethan is as surprised to see Willem Dafoe as we are
The only things promising to elevate Daybreakers above its recycled and not-terribly-interesting plot elements are its futuristic look and copious amounts of gore. Both of which are fine, of course (although the neo-noir look owes a little too much to Blade Runner), but they unfortunately don’t make up for what is in the end a dull story told by crushingly bland characters.
My biggest problem with Daybreakers is that it just isn’t any fun. By removing the supernatural element from the vampire myth, it leaves us with a sterile techno-thriller with fake fangs. The characters are over-earnest to the point of parody, which does little to distract from the gaps in logic and continuity that plague the clumsy script.
And really, there’s very little new to see here. The whole “human farming” idea was done decades ago (and better, in the guise of a neo-Gothic melodrama rather than a futuristic thriller) in the nasty 1979 Australian horror movie Thirst. The production design invites immediate comparisons to Gattaca and Blade Runner, and the “evil businessman keeping the hordes at bay in his skyscraper” routine was carried out with more unhinged aplomb by Dennis Hopper in Land of the Dead. (Here, Sam Neill seems to be contemplating how he took that wrong turn back at Event Horizon.)
In all, Daybreakers was an interesting idea, but not necessarily a good one. Robbing the vampire mythos of most of its bite leaves very little of interest to work with, and all the blue filters and retro hairstyles in the world couldn’t save what, for me, was a pretty lifeless bloodsucker flick. Fangs, but no fangs.
RATING (OUT OF 5):
Daybreakers is rated “R” for graphic violence, brief slipped Australian accents and gratuitous Willem Dafoe.