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You hardly ever run across an ugly vampire anymore, or a poor one, or even one who could lose a few pounds. That's thanks to the likes of Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer, respective authors of The Vampire Chronicles and the Twilight saga. Sure, some may be conflicted about their natures—but in a languid, Gap ad sort of way.
Now the year is 2019, and it seems that being a vamp has become so cool that almost everyone is one. It started as a mysterious disease, but most folks have come to consider vampirism an improvement over their old, mortal selves. We are, after all, eternal beings now, and we're sporting some pretty alluring incisors. We go to work much as we always have (though the tanning salon business has surely become extinct), grabbing a cup of blood-filled Joe (perhaps literally) before taking the night train to the office.
The downside? Since most of humanity turned vampire, there are precious few mortals on which to feed. Most have been rounded up and are being milked of their blood in massive warehouses—but they don't last forever, and the supply is drying up. There are a few free-range humans left, but they're in hiding. Today's cows could learn a thing or two from them, come to think of it.
We don't know whether vampires starve to death if deprived of blood, but they sure get cranky. If they go without their arterial energy drinks for too long, these civilized bloodsippers become true monsters, complete with claws and wings, hideous visages and a penchant for shrieking "SCREEEE!" and "ACCCHHHHH!!!"
Once that happens, there's not much you can do but toss 'em into the sunlight and sweep up the ashes afterwards.
Yep, it's hard to B positive in such an environment, but the folks at Bromley Marks, a large coagulation corporation, are trying. A team of scientists, led by the dapper Edward Dalton, are working on a blood substitute to keep society pumping. Initial results have been less than promising, and Edward, frankly, is a little conflicted about the whole thing. He feels bad about milking humans for his experiments: He thinks they deserve better.
So when he runs into a few of them—literally, with his black luxury car—he lets them go. The humans, seeing Edward as a promising ally, initiate another meeting later and introduce him to one Lionel "Elvis" Cormac—a human who, once upon a time, was a vampire. Just like Edward.
An ex-vampire? Does that mean there's a cure for vampirism? More importantly, does the world want one?
When not driven crazy by blood hunger, the vampires seem nice enough—as much as any of us are, at any rate. They hold down jobs, hang out with their families, and perhaps even attend church (though Sunday morning services are, naturally, out). They're a bit thoughtless—consuming their literal life's blood at an astonishing clip and not giving much thought as to where it comes from—but they're not completely, um, heartless.
Edward has a particularly well-developed conscience and feels a great deal of sympathy toward the remaining scraps of humanity. Perhaps this is, in part, because he didn't want to become a vampire: His brother, we learn, "turned" him, and ever since he's dedicated his life to helping his new fellows ease their need for the red stuff. He abstains from drinking human blood as much as possible, even dumping a bottle of fine, vintage corpuscles down the drain when his soldier-brother, Frankie, gives it to him as a gift.
Frankie spends most of his nights hunting down humans. But he too is conflicted. He didn't turn his brother because he was thirsty, but rather to save Edward's life. He figured the other vamps would kill Edward if he wasn't turned.
[Spoiler Warning] Near the end of the film, Frankie saves Edward's life again—sacrificing his own in the process.
The vampires in Daybreakers aren't demonic, but they aren't idealized either. These are human-like creatures who become frighteningly bestial when deprived of blood. If this movie was more palatable (read: less gory and viciously violent), one might even suggest that its makers are suggesting that the vampiric life is, essentially, soulless.
Charles Bromley, Edward's boss, was apparently at one time a spiritual man. He says that shortly before the vampire sickness came, his doctors told him he had cancer. "I prayed for a miracle, but I was realistic," Charles recalls. Then, when he contracted vampirism, his cancer cleared right up—an answer, he believes, to prayer. "We are blessed, Edward," he says. "Blessed."
Future Elvis recites a song from past Elvis that includes the phrase "Lord Almighty." He repeats that particular exclamation when something remarkable happens.
Bromley Marks' blood extraction center contains rows and columns of apparently unconscious humans in a massive, antiseptic warehouse. They're all naked, and they're arranged around pillars facing outward. Breasts are exposed. Genitals are either somehow covered or … torn off.
A woman is seen wearing a formfitting tank top without a bra. Edward goes without a shirt for a bit. Someone makes a reference to a prostitute and venereal disease.
Daybreakers essentially begins with a vampire child—a girl of about 11 or 12—suicidally stepping into the sun and burning herself to death. Flames engulf her, and we see her fingers fall off. It essentially ends with a frenetic vampire feeding frenzy in which vats of blood are spilt, splashed, sprayed, guzzled and spewed.
Subtlety is not this film's strong suit. Roughly 60 of its 90 minutes contain some manner of death, torture or mutilation. Humans are essentially eaten alive by vampires. One unfortunate has his limbs and head ripped off; blood springs from the corpse like fountains. Several more are gunned down. Still more are bitten (and partly gnawed upon). We see lots and lots of partly dismembered corpses and one or two severed heads. A woman cuts her hand to feed a hungry vampire and later finds herself strapped to a chair where the veins in her wrist are being held open.
Several vampires are dragged into the sunlight for incineration. One chews through her wrists to lap up her own blood. Another subjects himself to the sun's rays in an effort to find a "cure" for his vampirism, risking his life and enduring a great deal of pain. (We see flames dance across his chest.) Humans are hit with huge tranquilizer darts. Vampires are skewered with crossbow bolts. If humans aim their crossbows particularly well and target the vampire's non-beating heart, the beasties literally explode. They also explode, apparently, if metal beams spear the windshields of their Hummers.
One test subject, given a blood substitute, projectile vomits and sprouts horrific blisters before he blows up, showering blood and gore on everyone and everything around him. A monster-vamp, hanging from a ceiling like a bat, is sliced several times with a knife (sending gallons of blood gushing to the floor below) before being graphically decapitated. Police use cattle prod-like devices to subdue melee participants.
Crude or Profane Language
About 15 f-words and 15 s-words. God's name is misused a half-dozen times, sometimes paired with "d‑‑n." Other curses include "b‑‑ch" and "b‑‑tard."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Edward smokes. And really, being undead, why wouldn't he?
Human blood is sometimes sipped like fine wine. Charles tells one of his victims, as he swishes her blood in a wine glass, that it has a delightful hint of "fear."
Other Negative Elements
Daybreakers flips the vampire trope on its noggin, hinting at a world in which the vampiric populace lives in fear of mortal humans—blessed as we are with our preference for coffee over blood and our ability to tan. Through the proxy of blood, it mulls over a few issues we face today: overfished seas, depletion of oil reserves, rampant consumerism, etc. And it gives, I think, a really creative twist at the end that offers hope—even the promise of victory—for surviving cinematic humans.
None of that keeps this rabidly R-rated splatterfest from feeling simultaneously appalling and silly, though. Rarely have I spent time watching a film that made my stomach churn, my soul sink and my eyes roll in such equal measure.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Ethan Hawke as Edward Dalton; Willem Dafoe as Lionel 'Elvis' Cormac; Sam Neill as Charles Bromley; Isabel Lucas as Alison Bromley; Claudia Karvan as Audrey Bennett; Michael Dorman as Frankie Dalton
Peter Spierig ( ), Michael Spierig ( )
January 8, 2010
May 11, 2010