The Spierig Bros.' (Michael and Peter) second feature film is a clever vampire thriller that places the human race as an endangered species, with extinction resulting in a loss of the real blood that keeps the vampire polulation alive. Humans have been relegated to cows, and vampires manage all the banal affairs of state, commerice, entertainment and social life, but with artificial blood still in the testing phase, the global vampire populace is headed for a massive crash, where they'll rapidly regress into bat-like creatures.
Ethan Hawke is effective as Edward Dalton, a moody vampire/bio geneticist working on the artificial blood project for boss Charles Bromley (an appropriately smug Sam Neill), while a group of rebels headed by Lionel 'Elvis' Cormac (Willem Dafoe) are trying to gather the remaining free humans, barely managing to stay ahead of the state's elite human capture squad.
Unlike his brother Frankie, Edward doesn't like being a vampire, and it's through a car accident that he encounters the rebel humans, and helps them find a way to turn vampires human without any genetic engineering. That freak solution is a bit rich: the sudden exposure to direct sunlight in a vacuum that removes the vapours reverses the vampire state. Moreover, if a vampires ingests the blood of a restored human, that blood magically reverses the vampirical state.
Edward's return to humanity makes him a runaway, as well as a target for brother Frankie, a loyal member of the military squad. Eventually a series of conflicts come to a head, involving the rival brothers, the rebels, and slimy Bromley, who discovers his lost daughter is alive and and well (albeit as a human) and has her turned into a vampire.
Most of the storylines come together, and there's one clever twist that the directors almost pulls off: as the vampires keep feeding off humanized vampires, more bloodsuckers become human again. Unfortunately, the finale reduces the humans to a few again, and the optimistic ending - Edward and his rebels stand before a brightly lit doorway, posed to walk outside - doesn't change anything: they're back to square one, forced to flee again with the vampires back to hunting humans.
If taken as a comic book, Daybreakers works, and perhaps its greatest asset is the style and homages then went into the film. The 'scope cinematography is exquisite, and the production design is a stylish mix of modern glass and steel with minimal clutter. The interiors are bathed in a seaweed green, and the exteriors are a stark yellow, blazing like the African plains. (That look is deliberate, particularly when Edward's first meeting with Elvis occurs under the canopy of a large tree in the middle of an expansive field.)
The Spierig Bros. add a number of genre tributes, although the most noteworthy (and obvious) is the intense gore that permeates the violence scenes. In a tribute to George Romero's Day of the Dead (1985), Bromley has his head torn off by the vampires, with the camera covering the carnage in one long, angular movement.
Christopher Gordon's score also harkens back to the grand Hammer scores of the sixties and seventies, and Gordon's deft writing for large scale orchestra (plus a few tricks) offers up a regal, sometimes Wagnerian score that mandates the film be played loud in theatres and home setups.
Lionsgate's Blu-ray comes with featurettes on every pre-and production stage (including Gordon discussing his score, plus snippets of the recording session). There's also a commentary track, and for the curious, the Spierig Bros.' first film, the 2000 short The Big Picture. The film has an across the street neighbour, Jack (Michael Priest), trying to coax Wendy (Robyn Moore) for dinner. After she relents, she returns to her living room, and notices herself on the TV. Changing channels yields stages of the future, but it's an alternate future path where Wendy has dinner with the Jack, begins a relationship, and the couple embark on a lifelong journey with kids, and a move to a bigger home. Convinced she made a mistake, she calls Jack and hurries across the street, at which point the writer-directors end the film with a prank twist, offsetting the schmaltzy ending that was expected.
To read an interview with composer Christopher Gordon, click HERE.
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan