In 2019, vampires are the dominant species on the planet. Only 5% of the human population remains. Edward Dalton, a human sympathiser played by Ethan Hawke, works frantically to find a blood substitute before mortal man is harvested to extinction by “Bromley Marks,” the company he works for.
What ultimately saves “Daybreakers” from being sucked up and spat out in the current deluge of fang fiction is its central idea; what is the point of being a vampire when everyone else around you is too? The Spierig brothers accomplish this by stripping their bloodsuckers of all their normal superpowers and turn them into something far more terrifying: corporate America.
“Bromley Marks” sounds and acts like a bloated investment bank feeding off the remains of humanity, draining its blood and ringing out every last drop for profit. Just as petroleum giants try to hoodwink us into thinking they’re green by investing millions in renewable energy whilst they are still pouring billions into oil exploration, “Bromley Marks” does the same with blood. “It’s never been about a cure, it’s about repeat business,” we’re told, as they want to have a monopoly on the synthetic and human blood supply.
These undead wage slaves dress in 1000-dollar suits, kit out their eco Chryslers in the latest daytime driving technology, and live in plush gated communities. However, living the high life on the back of a limited resource highlights vampirism as the ultimate form of rabid consumerism. As the blood runs out, the lower class vampires become “Subsiders” — hideous Aphex Twin monsters who feed on vampire and human alike.
Cast out from regular society, the “Subsiders” reveal the ugly nature of a financial system built on unchecked greed. They are hunted down as an underclass, a subsistent economy representing the failure of the ultra capitalist doctrine. When one breaks into Edward’s apartment he is revealed as a gardener too poor even to buy the 20% blood served in the coffees bought in a “Starbucks” like chain. The police use the break in as an excuse to try and sell Edward more security.
The “Subsiders” also feed on themselves, hastening their debased mutation. As the blood supply bleeds out, the Spierig brothers confront us with ever-increasing orgies of depraved feeding as vampires turn on one another. This is the genre in its death throes, ripping itself apart, gorging itself until it cannot move, so bloated it will explode if another helping is served to a gluttonous public.
At odds with the film’s lofty ambitions are its lacklustre action set pieces. They’re functional enough, but lack the punch the central idea deserves. The normally excellent Willem Defoe is dreadfully miscast as Elvis, a human badass who just maybe is the saviour of mankind. His badly judged zingers fail to raise a laugh and upset the carefully crafted tone of the first act. “We’re the guys with the crossbows” just doesn’t cut it.
“Daybreakers” would have benefited from being a thriller in the mould of “Gattaca,” a film it closely resembles in its mise-en-scene and the inclusion of Ethan Hawke. The way it stands, the movie consumes its characters with an overload on sharp detail (every bloody vampire smokes) and clever ideas, with even Sam Neill’s villainous Charles Bromley coming up slightly short.
Still, the Spierig brothers give the audience more food for thought than we dared expect from a vampire-action-thriller. A world full of vampires is the genre’s logical conclusion but the “Smokey and the Bandit” ending promises yet another franchise when a better stand alone movie beckoned. In the words of a deranged “Subsider”: “Is this what you wanted?”