Back in the murky depths of two years ago, I finally watched the Spierig Brothers’ first feature, Undead, finding it pretty unique and satisfying among zombie apocalypse movies. It had taken me ten years to get to it (despite very good word of mouth) because I was sick of zombie movies when it came out, and didn’t watch any for ten years, not even the good ones. Once I watched Undead, I wondered, where the hell have these guys been since? only to find out they had made and released their second feature, another movie I had given a pass: Daybreakers, because it was a vampire movie. And before I was sick of zombie movies, I was sick of vampire movies.
Suddenly I was interested in watching Daybreakers.
The movie takes place ten years in the future; a plague has swept over the world, resulting in widespread vampirism, much like I Am Legend, except the vampires remain quite intelligent and the world adapts to the new monstrous normal. Life takes place at night, cities have a system of “Subwalk” tunnels so vampires can get around during the day. As the movie opens, we find that only 5% of the world population is still human, and that’s a problem when those humans are the only food source.
Ted Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is a Chief Hematologist for a global pharmaceutical company run by Sam O’Neill. Dalton, himself a very reluctant vampire, is desperately searching for a blood substitute – officially, the world will run out of blood by the end of the month. Unofficially, Dalton sympathizes with the humans, and a chance encounter puts him in league with a group of other rebellious vampires and free humans still seeking a cure, headed by Audrey (Australian star Claudia Karvan) and the enigmatic Elvis (Willem Dafoe), a vampire who has accidentally managed to cure himself.
Additional pressure is brought to bear by another unfortunate side-effect of the vampire disease; the vamps who are deprived of human blood begin to regress and mutate into savage, bat-like creatures called Subsiders, and their numbers are increasing as the blood supply dwindles. Dalton has to find a way to duplicate the extraordinary event that caused Elvis’ reversion to human, and then somehow convince the vampires to stop being immortal and rejoin the ranks of humanity.
The world-building in Daybreakers is quite extraordinary and thoughtful; Sam O’Neill says the reason he decided to do the movie was one tiny detail, of business-suited vampires lined up at a Starbucks-style kiosk to get their double shot of blood in an espresso. This sort of thing runs throughout, and is probably the major reason Daybreakers succeeds with me where another post-vampiric apocalypse movie, Stakeland, failed for me – the movie takes me somewhere else, somewhere new for two hours, instead of to a Mad Max movie with monsters. Too, the vampires there were savage beasts, and the vampires in Daybreakers are unquestionably Us, just with yellow contact lenses and longer canines. There is a layer of social commentary here that is also present in the best horror movies (Dawn of the Dead is the one that always springs to mind), and I have absolutely no problem adding Daybreakers to that short list.
Watching the making-of docs on the blu-ray presents a story that almost as good, as the Spierig Brothers take on the five-year process of scoring a budget for such an ambitious movie, and then having their 55 day shooting schedule suddenly shortened to 40 by budget cuts. That they still managed to deliver such an impressive movie in that time is a credit to their ingenuity and mad skills – they still wound up doing at least half of the post-production visual effects themselves (they did them all in Undead). They have since released their third movie, Predestination, based on Robert A. Heinlein’s “All You Zombies” and that is something I look forward to eagerly.
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