Theatrical review: Daybreakers

All bark and no bite.

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Certificate: 15
Directors: Peter Spierig, Michael Spierig
Screenwriters: Peter Spierig, Michael Spierig
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill, Willem Dafoe
Distributor: Lionsgate
Running Time: 97 mins

Given the glut of vampire films that have been, shall we say, less than exceptional recently, it’s unsurprising that many were looking forward to the bleak and noir-tinged setting promised by Daybreakers. The film, unfortunately, is only partially successful, and it’s not long before its promising and stylish beginning descends into a numbing and contrived series of gore-drenched set pieces that fail to tie together in any meaningful fashion.

Set in 2019, after a flashy credits sequence explains that the world’s human population has mostly been converted to vampires through a pandemic, we’re told in no uncertain terms that the world is on the brink of collapse now that there are only a handful of human beings left to farm for blood. Society has more or less converted to a nocturnal existence, and a chief researcher at a haematology firm, Edward Dalton, is searching for a blood substitute while harbouring pro-Human views that eventually set him against his own people.

As we’ve said, the first fifteen minutes of Daybreakers are excellent. The world seems lived in and fully realised, with the exceptional look clearly owing to the Spierig brothers’ background in visual effects. When the setting shifts to a more daytime-based front, however, it loses much of its charm, and holes in the script that could perhaps have been overlooked become too apparent to ignore. Ethan Hawke’s Dalton is never particularly convincing nor sympathetic as a lead protagonist, and considering the film tries so hard for realism, having Willem Dafoe in such a cartoonish role as Elvis seems an odd choice. Other plot points are never fully explained – why does sunlight cure the disease? How has nobody discovered this before, given the first thing we see in the film is a self-immolation? Why, for the love of all that is holy, does Sam Neill behave the way he does throughout the film, other than due to a flimsy story about having cancer when he could still get a tan?

Apart from one blisteringly excellent and beautifully shot scene, involving chains dragging along the pavement, the film’s visual pizzazz fizzles out quickly, instead being replaced by over-the-top gore – one scene graphically shows someone being literally ripped apart – and poor dialogue. Also, the subsiders, mutated forms of vampires who have fed on other vampires, are never presented as a real threat after the opening act, despite being built up and up to the point where you expect them to explode. Weak political allegory serves to further water down the film’s already frail backbone, leaving it a supine memorial to missed opportunities and frustrating directorial choices.

The film starts with so much promise, but eventually wilts in the harsh light of day.