Besides its magnificent story of a mostly-vampire world that’s running out of human blood, “Daybreakers,” a vampire sci-fi film directed and written by Michael and Peter Spierig, is also a topical drama about racism, corporate malfeasance, the economics and politics that surround a dwindling commodity, and a reminder about the omnipresence of good old human greed.
It’s a relief to watch a vampire-riddled film that doesn’t dissect the teen angst of the cinegenic undead and instead consider issues that relate to the here-and now: human blood a substitute for Middle East oil, non-vampires a substitute for victims of genocides and massacres.
The Spierig brothers knew what they were doing: they wanted to tell a compelling story (it is) and weave into it palpable issues; it’s not the stuff you’d read in Teen Vamp Magazine. As a result the messages and the Spierig’s production of the admirable film are perfectly integrated: issue begets spectacle, spectacle begets issue, and each tells a fantastic tale. There are no dead scenes where points are trying too-hard to be made. Here, the production sparkles with contemporary relevance that’s backed up with good acting, well-paced scenes, and visuals that could give “Avatar” a run for its money.
The production is scrumptious and stylized. It’s either set in stark neon-lit corporate offices and homes or else in lush, aquatint sunlit landscapes. To get around their heliophobia, they drive cars equipped with nighttime mode, which blocks out all the UV rays; a loudspeaker voice in their planned communities counts down the time until the sun rears its vampire-killing head.
The execution is wonderfully done. The fight scenes might be violent – when you kill a vampire with a cross bow, they explode like a flesh-and-blood piñata; there are a few feeding frenzy scenes that are not for the squeamish; when they are exposed to sunlight vampires most certainly don’t glitter like Edward Cullen; when they’re deprived of blood they become slimy super strong bat-oids – but they are not gratuitous.
There’s a purpose for the violence, both anatomical (vampires die different, period) and avarice-wise (the increasingly desperate guy that runs what amounts to a blood distiller has his own private army) and it nicely offsets some fine performances. Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), a vampire scientist trying to find a blood substitute, doesn’t like the way the few remaining humans are treated, so he switches sides and becomes a refugee. Hawke gives Edward compassion and the ability to find and hold onto a position in complex moral situations. Lionel "Elvis" Cormac (Willem Dafoe) and Audrey Bennet (Claudia Karvan) are two humans he befriends. As part of an underground group, each of them is committed and loyal (and they have a unique solution to the blood shortage). Michael Dorman effectively depicts Frankie, Edward’s vampire brother, first as a racist hothead and then as a savior to the human cause. And Sam Neill portrays Charles Bromley as efficient, productive, a leader and then, increasingly, as mad, immoral, and at a loss for how to proceed.
This production will stimulate your eyes and your minds. It’s a harmonious marriage between form and content. The visuals allow us to experience the story and its issues as well as contemplate them. Wow.