As usual, I’ll keep this Daybreakers review spoiler free at the start. I’ll warn you before I spoil anything.
So last night I went with Cat and Rob to see the sci-fi vampire flick, Daybreakers. It’s one of those films that I was aware of but actually knew very little about. I’d seen the trailer, I knew it was an Australian production and that’s about it. From the trailer it certainly looked good.
There’s a bit of a heavy handed info dump over the credits at the very start of the movie, but once the story gets going you can forget that and forgive it. The basic premise is that a single bat started a global pandemic of vampirism back in 2008. It’s now 2019 and the world has changed. There’s a small percentage of humans that refuse to turn and hold on to being human, the vast majority are vampires and living a nocturnal life and it’s got to the point where the vamps need to farm humans for blood as supplies are so low.
It’s actually a brilliant premise – if vampirism did become the global norm, human blood would run out very quickly. What do you do then? There’s a big corporation, Bromley Marks, that farms humans for blood and is, supposedly, looking for a quality blood substitute. Of course, here we have the allegory of big corporations trying to nail demand and corner profits and repeat business. Even the undead have a marketing department.
Ethan Hawke plays Edward Dalton, a hematologist vampire with Bromley Marks. He’s a key player in the search for a substitute. He’s also a reluctant vampire, turned against his will. His brother is a vampire soldier, hunting down humans. Cue family angst. Even vampires can’t choose their relatives.
Then there are the subsiders. When a vampire is starved of human blood a physical and mental change starts to take place. It starts with elongating of the ears and eventually the vampire becomes a feral, bat-like creature, more Bela Lugosi’s Nosferatu than Tom Cruise’s Lestat. Again, this is a brilliant concept the film explores. When starved of human blood, especially when you add to that the consumption of vampire blood, these creatures become the true monsters of the piece that even the vamps are afraid of.
Then Edward stumbles across a group of humans trying to survive, discovers something that indicates a possible cure for vampirism, making the need for a substitute irrelevant. Or is it? Some people probably want to be vampires, with the immortality and everything that comes with it.
The film is beautifully shot. The vamps live pretty normal lives, taking commuter trains to work and getting a coffee on the platform (infused with blood, naturally) and so on. Only it all happens at night. Subways and tunnels are everywhere. The lighting and colours used to evoke the feeling of this new world are brilliant. As is the use of the reflective vampire eyes. The vamps look pretty much normal, except for two slightly long canines, a grey pallour to the skin and those amber eyes. You get used to it. When you then see a human with tanned skin and normal eyes, the effect is surprisingly strong.
The story is complex and interesting, with a few twists and turns that keep you guessing. The idea behind the cure is brilliant, an inspired concept. The effects are excellent, especially a few choice moments of pure splattergore like the exploding test subject and subsider attack at Edward’s place.
This film is packed with subtext. The corporation making a fortune out of criminal activity that people ignore, being primarily the horrible exploitation of humans. The blood is running out, which is pregnant with ideas along the lines of oil and climate change that we face today. There’s a sub-class of people that are becoming dangerous due to the economics of who can afford the last few remaining drops of blood and who can’t. And so on and so forth. But all of this is never hammered. It’s just explored within the story and done very well.
If anything about the film sat a little uncomfortable for me it was the date. The Spierig brothers (writers/directors) have done a great job of creating a nocturnal world with some cool sci-fi updates to things for 2019. But all this has happened in just 10 years from outbreak to present day. It seems like vampires are a lot more organised than humans are right now in getting things done. I guess exploding in sunlight is a great motivator. But given that the night hours are shorter than the light hours, it’s a stretch to see the developments. Still, I suppose a lot can be done in ten years when necessity drives you and it’s really a very small and pointless gripe.
This is a really interesting, clever and beautifully shot movie. It has a good story, it keeps hold of the classic vampire lore while still managing to put a new spin on things and combines the sci-fi idea with the horror idea very well. And there’s just gallons of blood pouring out here and there to really keep the “Ew-factor” high. Plus a quality projectile vomit moment. And this is a vampire film that, in this age of vampire saturation, actually comes across as fresh and different. Well worth a watch.
After the next picture I’ll talk about a few more aspects of the film that you’ll want to skip if you haven’t seen it yet. Spoilers ahoy!
EDIT: Thanks to Rob Hood for this clarification. I made a mistake above when talking about Bela Lugosi’s Nosferatu. From Rob: “You don’t mean Bela Lugosi’s Nosferatu. Bela’s Dracula was human-looking and famously elegant. It’s the earlier film version of Dracula, “Nosferatu” directed by Murnau that featured a grotesque rattish vampire like the subsiders.”
Rob’s quite right. Nosferatu: A Symphony of Terror or simply Nosferatu is a German Expressionist vampire horror film, directed by F. W. Murnau, starring Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok. Released in 1922. This is the film I was thinking of when I made the comment above. Thanks Rob!
OK, so on with the spoilers. I don’t have any real gripes about this film. The storytelling is actually really good and there aren’t any gaping holes. At least, none that I noticed. The idea behind the cure – burning out the disease with sunlight – is inspired. The way it happened to Willem Dafoe’s character was also very cool. However, and this is a small, pedantic gripe, when he burst through the windscreen and into the water he was exposed to sunlight for a lot less time than Edward in the tank. Yet he came out all scarred and cured. They ended up exposing Edward for longer, and he came out cured and unscarred. I found that a little bit annoying.
Sam Neill as Charles Bromley was a bit of a disappointment too. For a film with such great performances, especially from Hawke and Dafoe, Neill’s overtly evil corporate overloard was a bit too comic book for my liking. The film was grounded with a strong sense of realism, so the Bromley character’s two dimensionality was a bit of a shame. The savagely bloody death in an elevator was, however, a very fitting end.
The product placement was a bit heavy handed. I’m really pleased that we’re getting films like this and they would never be like this from Hollywood. I’m extra pleased that it came from Australia (all filmed in Queensland apparently) but the intense placement of Chrysler over everything was a bit annoying. Still, if that’s the price we pay for a film like this, fair enough.
One last gripe. The film opens with a board meeting about the lack of blood. The corporation, Bromley Marks, is a leader in human farming and synthetic blood research, yet they claim that there’s not enough blood left to last a month. OK, first off, if this is a global phenomenon, why is it just Bromley Marks that we’re seeing? This is something that should be global priority number one with governments all banding together. The climate change allegory is clear, but with blood remaining for only a month, surely more than one company is working on the problem.
Secondly, regardless of the outcome – whether they find a substitute, whether the cure starts to work or not – we know that blood deprivation causes subsiders. Given the size of the world, the size of the “third world”, which persists as the film makes clear, the end result is bound to be a global subsider takeover. No way, with only a month of blood left, could people hold back the tide of subsiders.
The feeding frenzy at the end of the film with wave after wave of soldiers attacking their fellows as they turn back into humans, becoming human and being attacked in turn, leaves us with one scenario: eventually the whole population will be massively reduced with those surviving being human. If a subsider attacks a cured vampire, are they cured too or are they too far gone? This is a question that, to me, has massive implications for the resolution of the whole story.
Then again, the way the film ended is a wide open, gaping hole for a sequel, so maybe these ideas will be addressed. Whatever, I loved it and I’ll probably see it again if I get a chance. Go forth and support Australian indie films. It’s well worth it.