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Daybreakers Review – Corporate Vampires, Disgusting Decapitations and Elvis Presley

Daybreakers Review – Corporate Vampires, Disgusting Decapitations and Elvis Presley” width=”560″/>

Set in a world where the vampire-to-human ratio skews heavily towards the bloodthirsty undead, Australian writer-director team Peter and Michael Spierig’s scifi horror tale Daybreakers is filled with clever details, but falters as a satirical allegory about top-of-the-food-chain hubris.

The year is 2019, one decade after the onset of a plague that turned its victims into vampires; they in turn infected others, rapidly swelling the ranks of the undead exponentially. Now vampires run everything from the corner coffee kiosk to multi-national corporations. They live in suburban tract houses, take the subway to work and watch pretty newscasters on flat-screen TVs; sullen clusters of delinquent teens hang out on street corners and homeless beggars look for handouts. This facade of ordinary civilization rests on the foundation of blood farming: Mega-corporations like Bromley-Mark extract blood from comatose humans and sell it like any other commodity. There’s no carnage in the streets or unbridled bloodlust in the air, and corporate fat bats like CEO Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) are raking it in.

There’s only one problem with this creepy new world: The Vampires just about wiped out the human race before settling down. And without human blood, they degenerate into “subsiders” — mindless, scaly monsters who attack anything that moves (including their more civilized brethren) and are multiplying as blood becomes increasingly expensive. Animal blood only postpones the inevitable, which is why Bromley-Mark’s research division is working overtime to find an artificial substitute, and no one is more dedicated than head hematologist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), who hates that his so-called life is sustained by the suffering of human cattle. And that makes him ripe for recruitment by a scrappy band of free-range humans led by Lionel “Elvis” Cormac (Willem Dafoe), who has irrefutable proof that vampirism can be cured. He just needs some brainy type to figure out exactly how to distribute the antidote on a mass scale. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that Cormac’s second-in-command (Claudia Karvan) is a fox.

Credit the brothers Spierig for having ambition you’d never have suspected from their debut, the goofy 2003 zombie spoof Undead. Daybreakers aims to please gore fans with spectacularly disgusting decapitations, transformations and spurting wounds while simultaneously delivering a pointed allegory about institutionalized cruelty, heedless corporate rapacity and willful blindness as the price of creature comforts. I’m not sure that the same audience goes for both, but leaving that aside, the movie is also pretty stylish, from the sleek, dehumanizing architecture (because vampires are cold bastards) to the nifty gadgets (cars with blackout windows so vampires can drive during the day) and cultural references (Dafoe’s character gets his name from the Elvis Presley song “Burning Love.”)

But the story is disappointingly derivative: Beyond the formulaic David-vs-Goliath conflict, there’s a lot of the 2006 Ultraviolet (though to be fair, Ultraviolet made dismal use of its futuristic vampire vs. humans scenario), along with a generous dollop of Richard Matheson’s much-filmed I Am Legend and a just a hint of Alan Jessua’s Traitement de Choc (1973). And the big theme is old stuff, as old as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, which hit the same notes back in 1927, from the amoral businessmen living off the fat of the land, the complacent girls and boys who just want to have fun and the brutally exploited underclass whose blood quite literally greases the wheels of civilization. As a matter of fact, Daybreakers‘ unnamed vampire metropolis even looks kind of like, well, Metropolis.

All of which would be less noticeable if the characters were compelling: They’ve all got loads of back story, like Dalton’s love-hate relationship with his thuggish baby brother, who’s so into being a vampire that he made his brother one too. But only Neill’s matter-of-factly repellent Bromley, a master of the universe who was clearly a soulless blood-sucker long before the plague got hold of him, has any kind of juice. Which once again proves that the devil always gets all the best lines, even in a world teeming in monsters. 

For more movie reviews, visit AMC Filmcritic.

To read an interview with the Spierig brothers, click here.

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