DAYBREAKERS Review – TIFF ’09

     September 9, 2009

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Vampires are all the rage these days, between the tween thrust of “Twilight” and the sexual abandon of “True Blood”. But “Daybreakers” is not like its current brethren – it’s a classic vamp movie that follows some beloved myths while also introducing the genre to a whole new world of deadly circumstances. One, I might add, that doesn’t have any diamond-studded bloodsuckers. Read on to see why you should see “Daybreakers”.

darbreakers_movie_image_ethan_hawke__1_.jpgWith an explosive bat screech, “Daybreakers” flies to the year 2019, a future where Earth has been plagued by a worldwide vampiric outbreak. But this isn’t a world rife with anarchy. Society is much like it is now – everyday life soldiers on, but now the politicians, workers, and inhabitants have pointed teeth and a thirst for blood. Life is now conducted by night, and things seem orderly, except for one big problem- the blood is running out. There’s not enough “food” to feed the world and scientists like Ethan Hawke’s Edward are hired with the task of finding a substitute – not a “True Blood” sort of dish for political correctness, but a source of nourishment that will end the rapidly increasing starvation the world faces, as starving bloodsuckers turn into “subsiders” — a sort of human-sized vampire bat. Meanwhile, desperate for food, the military vampires hunt the streets for the human stragglers who have not been changed. At the head of both quests is blood-centric businessman Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) – a man who loves his undead life and the human reality it saved him from, even though his turning lost him his human daughter (who has run away to try and live out her human life).

Edward loyally works for Bromley, but he has ulterior motives for his faux-blood hunt. Sure, it’s his job, but he’s also a man who loathes who he has become, and wants a way to survive without drinking human blood. Just as his world is dark, so is his view of life until he’s literally slammed with a dose of daylight. When he comes across a band of underground humans – led by Audrey (Claudia Karvan) and Elvis (Willem Dafoe) – who are fighting to stay alive, Edward discovers a secret that might do a lot more than end his need for blood – it could save the human race.

darbreakers_movie_image_willem_dafoe__ethan_hawke_and_claudia_karvan.jpgFor the most part, “Daybreakers” is a serious and wild ride of vampiric intensity, but its also suffers a sort of identity crisis where the serious is smashed with flitting bouts of campy horror left over from helmers Michael and Peter Spierig’s Undead. One moment will have the slow, unwinding chills of a dark thriller, while the next will have an overly campy exploding geyser of dead vamps, or another dose of over-the-top flamboyance from Dafoe’s Elvis. Both aspects are enjoyable within the film, but don’t always blend together, sometimes bursting forth as campy fits of enthusiasm in a sombre story.

But these faults are almost inconsequential because of the world the Spierigs have created. The vampire’s blue-hued night contrasts nicely with the human’s bright day. Neither world becomes monotonous as the story reaches out like an intricate web, dipping into the many ways this world functions, without becoming too entrenched in any one part. The joys of vampiric life are balanced with the struggles and self-loathing of those who wish to still be human. The chaos of perfectly eerie creature-feature subsiders are balanced with the regality of the elite and the socially organized politicians. But even that small slice of government is given its due by answering our questions over what kind of government a vampire-ridden world has.

darbreakers_movie_image_sam_neill_and_ethan_hawke.jpgBut most of all – and the reason I recommend this to anyone itching for a good horror movie – is that the Spierigs have reclaimed the vampire genre and given love to classic tropes while also breaking the world out into a whole new playing field. There are new myths to consider, and best of all – a certain, distinct sense of “humanity” in these vampires and in this world. For the most part, this outbreak hasn’t created a wild and anarchistic society. Status quo remains, and doesn’t really fall into the oft-used habit of making evil things bringers of anarchy. All of the bloody fun is there, but there’s also depth – which is at its most explosive when detailing Bromley’s plagued relationship with his daughter. One of the most suavely campy and devilish of the “bad guys”offers the most heart-wrenching moments as the audience feels their way through his relationship with daughter Alison (heart-tuggingly playe by “Transformers”  Isabel Lucas).

Campy laughs, serious storylines, scary creatures, blood, guts, and thrills – “Daybreakers” seems to have it all. And while it might not come together in a perfect package, it’s most definitely a fun package.

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