Sunday, January 10, 2010

First Impressions: Daybreakers


For long standing vampire genre fans, the advantage of the current popularity of our toothsome friends is that we get a lot of new films and many of them appear at the cinema rather than going straight to DVD. Last year I saw a good number of vampire films at the cinema. Unfortunately, two of the films that did limited cinema runs never – for shame – got anywhere near me; Let the Right One In and Thirst I look at you.

Of those that did show near me, well in the main they were disappointing, with much stronger films being viewed on DVD. Indeed, I think I went to the cinema more in 2009 than I have in many a year and saw some fantastic films – mostly those I deemed as fantastic were non-vamp; Coraline (which had possible vampire Scottish terriers), Watchmen, Star Trek, Zombieland and Inglorious Basterds all spring to mind.

vampiric suicide
So, the first Vampire Movie at the cinema for 2010 and… I loved it. Daybreakers is a Spierig Brothers film – incidentally I also liked their previous zombie flick Undead – and is set in a dystopian future where most of the world population has been turned into vampires. The opening scene is fantastic as a young girl, forever a child, goes to meet the sun having left a suicide note that mentions never growing up. It opens the mood of the piece perfectly, this is no fairytale with happy clappy vampires.

no reflection
Rules start coming to us early on, but the Spierigs were not in your face with them, some were offered with actual subtlety. A single bat started it all – there is a bat motif within the film that might have been annoying, except that I love Crap Bats and I found it quirky – and caused what is clearly a supernatural epidemic. The vampires have glowing eyes, no heartbeat and cast no reflections (and in a moment that I rather enjoyed, we see that clothes do, indeed, reflect). Various methods of killing vampires are shown; staking, decapitation and sunlight being primary ones. Staking is somewhat explosive and sunlight turns them into an inferno. Decapitation leaves the remains intact – useful storywise.

the glowing eyes of a dystopian future
Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is a haematologist searching for a blood substitute. The company he works for is run by Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) and the main business of the company is human farming – you’ll have seen posters with Matrix like rig-ups with people being farmed. The army, in which Edward’s brother Frankie (Michael Dorman) serves, is primarily involved in the hunt and capture of humans. You see blood is running out. This is where the film worked perfectly for me. We have seen the plot premise of “take over the world by turning everyone into vampires” time and time again. Well the Spierigs have taken that to its logical conclusion. There might be a dour, in your face political message there about rampant commercialism in our world but, hey, it just took the premise to its conclusion – if you don’t like the message can I suggest its because you don’t like our world (or, perhaps, the mirror being held too closely to it).

cancer is no enemy
This is not an I am Legend world, though certain similarities necessarily exist (as I am Legend is the granddaddy of the vampire – and zombie for that matter – apocalypse story). I read a disparaging review that wondered how people could have refused to be turned. Certainly there was an epidemic (a bite turns) and some, like Edward, were turned against their will. Others, like Bromley’s daughter Alison (Isabel Lucas) were offered the bite and refused. Of course they are now on the run, an endangered species.

The lack of blood is becoming a problem. Edward only drinks pig blood and is slowly mutating (his ear has elongated). But others have started feeding from other vampires or themselves and this causes accelerated mutation to a half bat like creature of particular violence – the subsider. Starvation is the key to the mutation, with animal blood barely holding off starvation and feeding on dead vampire blood speeding things up. Subsiders are carrying out home invasions and it seems the vampires have their own bogeyman now – how they are dealt with is, again, a dour looking glass reflection of our own society’s ambivalent reaction to ‘undesirables’ (taken to its extreme).

Willem Dafoe as Lionel 'Elvis' Cormac
Edward is involved in a car accident and helps the human’s in the other car, led by Audrey Bennett (Claudia Karvan). This subsequently leads to his introduction to Lionel Cormac (Willem Dafoe, Shadow of the Vampire and Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant) – a vampire who accidentally cured himself. If they could replicate the cure they could save humanity – of course the cure in the wrong hands would be disastrous.

farming humans
I have mentioned the word dour a couple of times and the film is grim – it has more in common with say 1984 or Brave New World than Gothic Horror, and to me that was absolutely fine. I wondered whether there was perhaps a nod to the film the Breed in the costuming, which also featured a stylised, dystopian world. It is also, in parts, very bloody – which is great. This has taken the idea of brutal vampires and placed a veneer of society over them. Then it takes us to the place where the veneer is beginning to crack and lets us watch the carnage. I, for one, appreciated this.

Sam Neill as Bromley
I have always liked Sam Neill – even if some of his role choices have been questionable – and he is perfectly cast in this. Hawke is unobtrusive and Dafoe always gives a top notch performance.

This is recommended, and rather than review the DVD seperately I have added screenshots in as an edit and will offer a score of 7 out of 10. The imdb page is here.


Everlost said...

A better review than i had expected, the few i have read so far were not so impressed! Daybreakers II a certainty you think? Did they leave much scope for a sequel?

Taliesin_ttlg said...

One of those I went to the cinema with was pretty sure that they aimed for a franchise and a prequel or sequel would be possible - you could even scratch the main characters and look to another part of the 'world'.

I'm not so sure, however, when I look at Undead it was clear a sequel could have been produced... they didn't. If a sequel is done I suspect it wouldn't involve the Spierigs (but I could be wrong).

As for other reviews, I've read one positive and many negative but the negative ones certainly didn't get it and were obsessed with the fact it is dour and gritty and downbeat... my message to them... get over it, the film was meant to be that way. Not every film should have happy clappy vampires.

Anonymous said...

oh Excellent! I also like Sam Neill very much (he made an excellent Merlin in the first movie, not that second abomination which they termed a sequel but had nothing to do with the first one) and it's about time Ethan Hawke played a vampire.

Wait -- this isn't about happy, clappy, sparkly vampires?! It's nice to see movies these days where the vampires actually like what they are, unlike other vampires who moan about their curse. And I like the old-school lore like no reflections and bats! I'm going to see this next weekend with friends but now I really want to go today.....

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Nicole, to be fair Ethan Hawke's vampire doesn't like what he is... but rather than moan he gets on with things.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I should add as well that they don't turn into bats... a bat caused the epidemic and subsiders are sort of man bat hybrids... sorry if that wasn't clear

Anonymous said...

As long as there's no moaning about how their sparkly skin is that of a killer (I paid like $30 to get glitter powder like that!), it's fine with me. Good to see people accepting and getting on with things. Thanks for clarification of the bat lore, which doesn't disappoint me as I still like the idea of the bat tied somehow to vampire tales.

Taliesin_ttlg said...


lets us know what you think after you've seen it.

Derek Tatum said...

I am going to see this today. Even if the story is terrible to me, I know this is one I will buy on DVD already based on the visuals and the film's ideas I keep reading about.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Derek, I hope you get a lot out of it...

tbh I know what you mean re the visuals and I'd have probably felt the same but this is a must have on DVD for me because I enjoyed it last night so much...

Let us know what you think

xxevilolivexx said...

I'm SO glad this film was finally picked up for distribution - I'm been anxiously awaiting it for so long! I can't wait to see it!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hope you enjoy it EvilOlive

Marissafarrar said...

I can't wait to see this movie, though I will have to wait till it is out on DVD. Love the main actors in it!

Anthony Hogg said...

Enjoyed the review!

Should I mention that the Spierig Brothers are fellow Aussies? Heh heh.

In fact, the film was shot on Australian locations and stars a bunch of Aussie actors.

Oh, and as to vampire apocalypses, I gave a little coverage on the subject here.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers Anthony, I was aware of the Aussie origins of Daybreakers - good to see more Australian vampire material appearing.

Cheers for the link to your vamp apocalypse piece, you are right - it is an under explored area, especially as the zombie apocalypse was lifted from the vampire apocalypse (night of the Living Dead - in which the zombies were refered to as ghouls - having I am Legend as an inspiration)

Anthony Hogg said...

And Romero's been quite explicit about lifting his "ghoul" premise from Matheson's novel.

The zombie tag was probably added because of the shambling, undead nature of the "ghouls", which, as Arabic folklore contends, were flesh-eaters (see its Wikipedia entry).

The zombie, as derived from Haitian folklore, was not. They were corpses revived by bokors as undead labour.

That's why earlier zombie flicks like White Zombie (1932) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943) didn't feature marauding, flesh-eating, infectious corpses, and stuck closer to the Haitian theme.

The zombie flicks of today owe a massive debt to vampires!

S. Roit said...

I liked Daybreakers.

Some of the negative reviews I saw, had to do with what they considered plot holes. However, I think they just didn't pay attention during the film. Most of their questions were answered.

And anyway, we're not going for high art here. It was good entertainment.

Also, I've seen Thirst, and if you still haven't, I'm thinking you should.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Sherry, many thanks for the comment. I think you nailed it with "good entertainment".

Vampire Santa Claus promised me the DVD of Thirst as a late Xmas present. As it was released in the UK yesterday I'm expecting it any day now (and anticipating it also).

btw I have Awakenings sat in my 'to read' pile - I promise it will be read soon.

S. Roit said...

I'll be interested on your take of Thirst. Especially if you've ever heard of the French author Emile Zola...

LoBo said...


Do you know if there is any more films or tv series like this that the focuses on the survival aspects (Either the humans or Vampires) with the Vampires behaving like Vampires, not Zombies?

You have seen so much more Vampire films than me, so perhaps you can recommend some to me?

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Lobo, there are films out there but often they so start to fall in the vampire/zombie crossover.

One, where the vampires are very vampire and have taken over is Midnight Mass and one (though not very good) at the point of outbreak is the 6th Extinction

The granddaddy of vampiric plague stories is Matheson's I Am Legend - and also a reason why there is that vampire/zombie crossover, given that Night of the Living Dead was partially inspired by it. The best filmed version, for me, is the Last Man on Earth

Similar, but quite zombie-esque is Stake Land and a post apocalyptic movie series with both vampires and zombies were the (poor) Meat Market and Meat Market 2.

An interesting and different episode from a TV series was Waiting Game from the series Monsters, set after a nuclear war.

Finally there is the small time version, of which the versions of Salem's Lot (1979 and 2004) are the obvious examples.

Not all the above are good films, though there are some excellent films too, but I hope that helps :)

LoBo said...

Ok, thanks.