Directed by: The Spierig Brothers
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Claudia Karvan, Michael Dorman, Vince Colosimo, Isabel Lucas and Sam Neill.
While vampires have been portrayed as sexy and sensitive as they try to recapture their humanity while they form relationships with humans in recent movies and television series, no one has thought what would happen to them if the population they’re trying to emulate suddenly started to dwindle and become extinct. That is, until the Spierig Brothers, two Australian writers and directors, wrote the screenplay for Daybreakers, the new Lionsgate horror/thriller/science-fiction movie starring Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill.
Daybreakers, which is set in 2019, focuses on the mysterious plague that has swept across the world in a period of ten years. The plague has transformed most of the world’s human population into vampires, leaving the few humans who are left an endangered species forced into hiding. It’s estimated that there are only enough humans left to feed the vampires for the next month. In order to survive, the vampires must hunt those humans who are left while searching for a blood substitute. The army of vampires who are instead feeding off the blood of other vampires instead of humans have turned into bat-like creatures known as subsiders.
Edward Dalton (played by Hawke), a hematologist and researcher for the Bromley Corporation, refuses to feed on human blood, as he was unwillingly turned into a vampire ten years earlier by his brother Frankie (portrayed by Michael Dorman), and wishes to retain his humanity. Edward’s job is to find the blood substitute that will sustain both the human and vampire races. But when he meets human Audrey Bennett (played by Claudia Karvan) and Lionel ‘Elvis’ Cormac (portrayed by Dafoe), a former vampire who became human again, Edward turns against his race to try to find a permanent, widespread cure for vampirism.
Several aspects of Daybreakers definitely exceeded expectations, including the visual effects. With a budget of only $21 million, which is approximately only one-tenth of the money director James Cameron spent on Avatar, the Spierig Brothers’ constant dedication and hard work shone through. They were able to pull off having a subtle futuristic world that still resembled what our neighborhoods look like today, with familiar settings as restaurants, subways and skyscrapers. But they also included advanced technology, including security systems in the vampires’ homes to alert them when even a door was opened and full body suits and darkened car windows to protect them from the sun, which convincingly showed that the vampires now ruled the world.
While the budget constricted how many CGI effects the Spierig Brothers were able to include, and forced them to do 350 computer effects themselves, they stated in interviews that creating authentic subsiders and vampires on set actually benefited the movie. For the subsiders, for example, special make-up effects designer Steve Boyle created a full-body outfit of prosthetics using latex foam and silicon, according to Lionsgate. Instead of creating the creatures on the computer, Boyle put real actors in these costumes, which took eleven hours to be glued on to their bodies and included wings, allowing the rest of the actors to provide authentic fright and fear while working with them.
Daybreakers will also be able to attract a diverse audience, as it combines self-loathing vampires, including Edward and Alison, who wish to retain their, and revert back to, humanity. This theme has proven successful in such films as Interview with the Vampire and Twilight, and shows as True Blood and The Vampire Diaries, as audiences like to relate to the characters they’re watching, even if they’re supernatural in nature. Audiences will also appreciate the fact that Daybreakers’ self-loathing vampires, much like those in the films and television shows before it, are at the same time battling the evil vampires who don’t care about human life.
The plot also works because it contains a subtle message, which isn’t always found in horror/science-fiction films. While Daybreakers’ obvious story-line is that the human species is quickly dwindling, almost to the point of extinction, leaving the vampires in a panic and questioning how they will survive, it points to our society’s current dependency on natural resources, such as oil. If in real life we don’t find a substitute to oil, much like the blood substitute the vampires need in the movie, we will all become desperate enough to continually kill for it.
However, while the CGI effects, costumes, setting, the story’s message and the actors’ reactions all have redeeming qualities, the plotline is run thin and does have some confusing aspects. For example, the audience is told that Charles Bromley (played by Sam Neill), who runs the Bromley Corporation and is Edward’s boss, has a human daughter. But when Edward first meets Audrey, it is easy to believe that she may be Charles’ daughter, as Edward questions him about her. It’s not later on until the audience finds out that Charles’ daughter is Alison (played by up-and-coming Australian actress Isabel Lucas).
Another confusing aspect of the plot is that Lionel was supposedly cured of being a vampire by walking into the sun after crashing his car. But the rest of the vampires are immediately burnt to ashes after coming into contact with the sun. To help the audience understand better how the vampires are cured, the Spierig Brothers should have added more details to this aspect of the story.
While the characters in such movies as Underworld and Twilight have enough back stories and conflicts to successfully create trilogies, not much is revealed about any of the characters Daybreakers. Even Hawke and Dafoe, who have both been nominated for Academy Awards, weren’t given enough material to make their characters individually memorable. If this film is financially successful enough, there is no doubt a sequel will be made, but the Spierig Brothers may have a hard time creating new ideas and a new story-line.
Overall, Daybreakers may not be as financially successful, or make as big of an impact on American culture, as other vampire movies and television shows. But those older audiences who aren’t interested in Twilight, but who like Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, and enjoyed Interview with the Vampire and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the blood, gore and nudity of True Blood should definitely check out Daybreakers.
Written by: Karen Benardello