Rather like how human blood is in short supply in this vampire thriller, original ideas are a scarce commodity in Hollywood these days. The vampire genre in particular has been sucked dry so completely by Twi-hards and tweenies, the moment screenwriters Michael and Peter Spierig pitched the very adult concept for Daybreakers, desperate producers must have sunk their teeth into it like thirsty bloodsuckers.
Daybreakers is set after
your average vampire movie; when the plot to stop the undead taking over the world has failed. Vamps are now the dominant species on the planet, but society still operates as normal, albeit with lockdowns at sunrise and human blood sold on every street corner. Herein lies the problem for the new world order: vampires need the red stuff to survive, and with just 5% of the human population left, that itch can't be scratched for much longer. It's the job of biochemist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) to find a blood substitute, or mass extinction is but months away.
Perhaps Daybreakers biggest flaw is its self-contained nature: its central premise is so fascinating, one movie couldn't possibly hope to explore all avenues of interest. The plot follows Hawke's doc as he teams up with a band of human survivors as he attempts to discover a cure for vampirism, but the movie would have benefited from a wider lens to take in far grander themes.
It's not a slight on the movie as such - after all, there's nothing more desperate than a wannabe franchise-starter - but Daybreakers is zoomed in too tight to be a true great of the genre. All we know about how the rest of the world is coping with the blood shortage is glimpsed on newsflashes through shop store windows.
It's a shame the movie doesn't quite have the courage of its convictions either. The idea of a world populated by vampires is a winning one (recently mined by HBO's excellent True Blood), but any insights into how an undead society really functions is passed over in favour of a series of shoehorned scares and unnecessary action scenes. Half chin-stroker and half bicep-bulger, Daybreakers feels all too intelligent to pander to an action audience. Sadly, as it races to an increasingly bloody and ludicrously gory conclusion, it's the viewers with a lower IQ that will be more satisfied. Did Nosferatu need a car chase?
The occasional boneheaded moments aside (sun-proof vamp cars that are seemingly driven by webcam, a hand-drawn map with the word 'tree' written in big letters), Daybreakers has more than its fair share of memorable moments. The human blood farms are eerie as hell (if a little Matrix-esque), while the emaciated 'subsiders' - devolved, blood-deprived vampires - are extremely creepy. It didn't go unnoticed either that, without the risk of death by cancer, immortal vamps are free to smoke like chimneys. Daybreakers also has a unique aesthetic, and is visually distinct, despite being set in near total darkness. An 18 rating also ensures there'll be no Twilight
fans clotting the aisles.
Hawke is perfectly cast as Dalton (with ratty looks and pointy ears, he looks half-dead already), who enjoys a well-rounded character, while Sam Neill oozes sleaze as the pharmaceutical chairman with blood on his hands - like Gordon Gecko without a pulse. Sadly, there are under-developed roles for Willem Dafoe as a crossbow-wielding maybe-saviour named Elvis and Claudia Karvan as a fellow survivor-slash-love interest. Isabel Lucas, though thoroughly hot, unfortunately enjoys around three minutes of screen time.
As a standalone vampire movie, this is probably one of the better ones you'll see this year, but it's a shame that a potentially epic saga feels truncated into one mildly diverting genre movie. That Daybreakers biggest problem is that there isn't enough of it should tell you enough: watching it provides short-term entertainment, but like those voracious bloodsuckers, it'll just leave you wanting more.