Back in the halcyon days of my youth, before vampires had all these rules governing their creation, it used to be that if you were killed by a vampire you'd rise as one of the undead. I probably thought waaaay too hard about it because the notion terrified me. If vampires need to feed and feeding creates more vampires, what happens when the world gets taken over? What happens when vampires run out of people to feed on? What happens when they turn on each other?
Apparently I wasn't alone in these thoughts. Someone made Daybreakers. It gets points for doing something vaguely, kinda-sorta newish with vampires. In an era of darkly romantic love interests, the vampires of Daybreakers are unapologetically predatory and cruel.
Well, that's not exactly true. The vampires of Daybreakers don't actually think about the cruelty they inflict on the human race. They get their blood from coffee shops and grocery stores, mixed in with commuter beverages as they move around in underground walkways. Sure, Sam Neill's sleazy vampire CEO stares at his dwindling farm of humans in the same sad way Depression-era fat cats look at dwindling stock portfolios, but the bulk of vampire society is guilty by consumerist demand. I pass very harsh judgment on their consumerist society, all the while wearing cheap clothes made by overseas slave labor.
But I'm wandering. I digress.
The movie is pretty amusing. Ethan Hawke is a vampire hematologist who doesn't feel good about himself. He joins up with some humans, they figure out a cure for vampirism and do a bit of running around. Stuff happens, other stuff happens, and there's something vaguely resembling an optimistic ending. I like Ethan Hawke for reasons I can't quite fathom, but the movie never quite jelled with me until the last 45 minutes or so. Fuck it, I enjoyed Daybreakers more as a travelogue of the vampire society and less as a story.
There's so much cool stuff in this flick. I loved the blacked out cars that allow vampires to drive in the day. I like the chime-y warnings in the suburbs that warn the locals of dawn's approach. I liked the crazy shiny look of all the buildings and the subwalks. I liked the weird, Blade-esque lighting. I liked the retro-50s vampire chicks working at the coffee shops. I liked the fascist, predatory vampire soldiers. I liked the slow degeneration of vampire society as hunger overtakes them and a starving desperation begins creeping in their eyes.
I also dug how absolutely, horribly violent the movie was. The vampires play by pretty traditional rules and I was probably expecting a bit of Twilight-style romance but the actual feedings were brutal and disgusting. There's a scene where one of the vampires changes a human and it's an extremely nasty, unromantic moment. Later, when the starving vampire soldiers get ahold of a human being, they rip him apart like in a zombie movie. It ain't pretty, but it made vampires scary again. Underneath all the restraint and melodrama vampires are addicts and whether or not a movie is a supernatural romance or a horror movie depends on how much the creators play up that angle.
I mentioned that the story really didn't come alive for me until the end, and most of that is due to Michael Dorman's portrayal of Frankie Dalton, the soldier brother of Ethan Hawke's character. He's set up to be an antagonist, a weary soldier impatient with his brother's idealism and discomfort with his vampire nature. He's got that Iraq-era fictional soldier personality, impatient and constantly on the verge of snapping, with an unshakable faith in his mission beyond the scope of morality. He turns his back on his brother and sides with the eeeeevil corporation trying to bring him in and spends most of the movie as a villain.
The movie could have easily let the character run his course to his inevitable annihilation, but as the situation worsens and society falls apart, Frankie begins losing faith. His former rock-solid beliefs are shaken and he returns to his brother. What could have been a simple story of good brother vs. jerky brother turns into something with depth, complexity, and value. As the story was structured it wouldn't have been enough to carry the whole film, but I really liked him.
Now, one thing that REALLY pissed me off about Daybreakers was the over reliance on the soundtrack-spike jump scare. It was one of those movies that relied heavily on things suddenly popping up on-screen accompanied by a sudden scream. It's a fine trick every once in awhile, but I really can't stand horror flicks that rely on that effect. It's a cheap shot and it rattles my nerves.
Anyway, I can't say I regret seeing the movie. If you like vampires and want to see something new done with their mythos, I'd say check it out.