Daybreakers, AKA 2010’s first vampire movie, is a pretty solid movie-going experience. It delivers on its trailers, presenting an eerie future where almost all the humans on earth have been changed into vampires–and in having done so not just not solved but actually worsened all of the problems and injustices in the world. The blood supply is on the verge of exhaustion, blood prices are skyrocketing beyond the reach of most of the populace, the number of vampires feeding on each other or themselves and becoming mutated monsters is exploding, and a non-toxic substitute has yet to be found. Chief hematologist for the largest blood supplier, Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), only thinks he has problems…until he encounters a group of humans who want him to find a cure. Not for the blood supply crisis, but for vampirism itself.
First, this movie is rated R for a reason, and they make full use of that rating to up the gruesome ante beyond what teenage flights of fancy and throbbing daydreams about vampires tolerate. These vampires are not sexy, despite their yellow eyes that glow in the dark. The glamour of the forbidden, of the unknown, of the dangerous, has dissipated when vampires are the default species. They are desperate and dying, despite their immortality, and too stubborn to change their ways to save themselves. We are treated to vampires exploding from blood substitues that didn’t work; staked vampires bursting without burning, because they only burn in sunlight; and burning vampires’ flaking bones still moving before consciousness finally dies. It’s not exactly a jumpy movie (although there is at least one moment), but it is a gory movie.
It’s also a subtly complex movie, with several different subplots that keep intersecting until they become one clear story. The set-up was handled I thought really gracefully, pulling on our culture’s vampire tropes to tell much of the story without words. Edward is shown in the side mirror of his car, as just a suit sitting there adjusting its tie. The movie opens with a young vampire girl committing suicide by waiting for the morning sun and burning to ash. The blood harvesting bank is a Boschian nightmare of suspended human bodies pale in the flourescent lights and immobilized by the harnesses holding them in their places on the “trees.” The lack of human health problems is shown in the constant smoking of almost everyone, including the teenage vampires, and in Edward’s boss’s story of having his cancer cured by the vampire pathogen. He gives voice to the sinister belief driving most of the vampire population to embrace their disease: What’s to cure?
The special effects were decent–certainly none of them made me roll my eyes at their obvious fakeness–and well-integrated into the tone and colors of the world. During the night, when the vampires reign, it was blue and gray and dark. During the day, the sun was overbright and the film overwashed with its light. There were a lot of mood and/or setting shots that were nice to look at. I wouldn’t call the cinemetography quirky or full of odd angles and frames like you get in indie films–it was definitely a cinematic movie–but the film was interesting to look at and obviously had been put together with thought to the artistry of the picture in places. The costume designer made an interesting choice to give the vampires a 1950s vibe in clothing, especially the women’s dresses and the men’s hats, and the “vampy” make-up of the women–very dark lips and eyes, like you might find on the femme fatale in a noir movie. (The humans were a stark contrast in modern casual.) Part of this may have been because the vampires were such a traditional conception of them: no reflection, burned in the sunlight, drank only human blood, had no heartbeat, lived forever.
The cure they find, however, is something I haven’t seen done before, and while it seems almost beyond belief that only one person had stumbled onto it by accident in 10 years of the epidemic, it still created a horrific scene at the end. It was probably the most terrible thing in the movie, to see someone regain his humanity only to be set upon by a starving pack of vampires.
There were definitely holes that could be picked in this movie–I’m not going to say it was flawless, by any means–but it was entertaining. Sometimes you just want to watch a good story, and so even if you aren’t really sure the situation would have gotten so bad…even if you can’t really believe the vampires would abandon all of their human morality toward humans or those of their own kind who turned mutant but yet not give up the strictures of human society in other ways…even if you can’t really believe no one else accidently cured themselves…it was still entertaining as hell. So I would call it an enjoyable B movie, which is what it looked like and what it is, and give it a thumbs up for being a popcorn movie with good guys, not-so-good guys, kharmic justice, lots of blood, and Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe in the same film.
Elena Nola is the imperial movie critic and the colder half of the Ladies of Ice and Fire.