It has been five long years since the Spierig brothers hit the US with their indie zombie film Undead, which Lionsgate dumped in limited theaters before its eventual DVD release. The Australian directors quickly has their first major studio release greenlit, entitled Daybreakers, which finally has its world premiere at the Midnight Madness portion of the Toronto International Film Festival. While I was a big fan of Undead, I really wanted to see what the duo did next before I made my judgment on how talented the Spierig brothers where; was it a fluke? Daybreakers is not only a fun film, but an ambitious display of filmmaking that shows just how good a movie can be on a small budget (again).
In the film Ethan Hawke plays Edward Dalton, a researcher in the year 2019, in which an unknown plague has transformed the world’s population into vampires. As the human population nears extinction, vampires must capture and farm every remaining human, or find a blood substitute before time runs out. However, a covert group of vampires makes a remarkable discovery, one that has the power to save the human race. – Lionsgate
It’s obvious why Lionsgate is rushing to finally put this in theaters this January as the vampire genre is hotter than ever, but as simply stated at the festival, this is NOT Twilight. If there was an opposite to that damn teen franchise, Daybreakers is it. These vampires are fierce, violent, heartless – and worst of all, when they don’t have blood they become horrible creatures of the night. In Daybreakers, vampire become the dominant species and have been capturing humans to harvest blood from. Obviously, they’re running out of blood, so their leader Charles Bromley (played by the incredible Sam Neill) has a research team looking for a synthetic blood to sell on the market. Dalton on the other hand wants a cure.
While the plot has been done numerous times before on a smaller scale (like in Blade), what makes Daybreakers special is their new spin on the mythology. While these blooksuckers can’t see their reflection and can’t go in the sun, they also turn into creatures when they don’t have blood. In addition to some various new rules, the “twist” that moves the plot is pretty great, but I won’t ruin it for you.
The screenplay, also by the Spierig brothers, was overly ambitious, especially for such a low budget horror film. The scope and magnitude of Daybreakers is beyond telling in one movie as it easily showed in the film. One such flaw is the development of the relationship between Charles Bromley and his daughter, who he wants more than anything to “convert” to vampirism. Instead of tying in a political message (like the idea that other vampires would look at him with a scorned eye if they knew his daughter was human), they just pass right over it in such a way it becomes a pace killer and wasted moment. In fact, a lot of the movie has this problem, which causes it to have some serious pacing issues (one of the major flaws). Another problem is that the script lacked a major villain and/or “end game boss.” The finale felt lackluster, as it never tried to top itself or do anything to make the climax feel like an actual climax. This isn’t Lord of the Rings guys….
Beyond the pacing issues and lack of character, the special FX work ranged from terrible to excellent. Even when poorly executed, the way the Spierig brothers shot the film hid the majority of the problems – and there were some moments of practical/CGI mixed bliss involving exploding heads and other random bloody goodness. While the way the Spierig brothers shot the film is a major part of its success, the cinematography by Ben Nott is out of this world making each and every scene look big, expensive and otherworldly.
While it’s far from perfect, Daybreakers is an incredibly fun movie. Loaded with talented actors (Sam Neill, Ethan Hawke and of course Willem DaFoe), beautiful camerawork (a stunning slow-mo shot in the finale proves this) and buckets of blood, I can’t recommend this enough. The Spierig brothers have officially proven themselves as competent and talented directors delivering a vampire film that won’t quickly be forgotten.