Movie Time: Daybreakers (2009)
Set in the not so distant future of 2019, this is a gritty, futuristic take on the classic genre. A plague has turned nearly every human into a bloodsucker. Faced with a blood supply shortage, the elite plot for their survival. They now live In a world where humans have fallen from grace and have become a second class species under none other than the blood fueled legion of the undying. Society has morphed into a quasi-sterile, dystopian Bram Stoker infused Blade Runner-Ish nightmare.
The Coffee. Everyone needs their coffee. It’s kind of a commentary on the fact that people who drink coffee as part of their morning routine are like vampires prior to getting their fixes. And when the service is slow or the coffee is weak, it can really get under your skin. The filmmakers take some time to set up how the economics of blood and business factor into the new world. It’s not like they’re teaching a class or anything, but the concepts are peppered through the first act of the movie, and it’s actually pretty cool.
Daybreakers turns the traditional vampire narrative on its head. Instead of having the bloodsuckers as a minority and most of the world being oblivious to their existence, other than a handful of Hunters, we have the opposite. In this world, 99% of humanity has been turned and humans are now the scarce commodity being hunted, captured, and farmed for their delicious plasma.
As the human population dwindles, so does the blood supply needed to keep the world moving. The vampire population has reached their apex, a crux, and there isn’t enough blood to sustain them. Ethan Hawke’s character is a scientist working to synthesize a new blood alternative that will provide the needed nutrients for sustenance.
This ever-ticking clock clangs away in the background for the vampires because it’s not as if once they run out of blood they just starve and die – nope – what awaits for them is a fate much worse. They morph into monstrous beasts similar to those found in the 1996 film From Dusk Till Dawn by Robert Rodriguez, or the “Bonies” from 2013’s Warm Bodies that will feed on anything, vampire or human.
For years the idea was that once infected, the victim must succumb to the inevitable future of becoming and “living” as a member of the undead, but it would seem that this is not entirely true! Hawke’s character meets “Elvis” and his crew and learns that through a literal “trial by fire,” one can be reborn. Hawke switches his motives to something far more noble: a cure.
The cast is stacked with some serious talent. Ethan Hawke (Gattaca & Boyhood) plays the role of our protagonist Edward Dalton. Willem Dafoe (Platoon & Spiderman) plays Lionel ‘Elvis’ Cormac, the grizzled ex-bloodsucking vet, and Sam Neill (Jurassic Park & Event Horizon) is the film’s antagonist Charles Bromley.
The film clocks in at just over 98 minutes (1h 38m), which is pretty standard for the type of film it is. There is really no time wasted in the movie as it moves through its story arch, hitting all its needed beats for both development of Dalton (Hawke’s character) and the plot. It has brief moments where some of the story movements feel slightly mechanical, but it’s not glaring and doesn’t distract from the spectacle and narrative.
The cinematography of Daybreakers is highly stylized and the fame never feels boring. There’s a slaughter scene where a SWAT team and army officers go at it and wow, believe us when we say that the Spierig brothers’ use of slow motion here is hauntingly poetic. As one would expect, the visuals are dark and the majority of the film is cast in a light gray/bluish hue, and it totally works. It has a cold, muted feeling that just pulls you in. The use of blood and gore is handled well, although at times it can get a little bit Kill Bill-like, if you know what we mean.
The movie was shot on a combination of Super 35 using the Arriflex 435 ES- W/ Panavision Primo Lenses and 2K digital using a Panavision Genesis HD Camera.
Daybreakers was produced by Peter Block & Lionsgate Films. It was written & directed by the Spierig brothers – Michael & Peter (Predestination & the upcoming final installment of the Saw franchise: Legacy) and made on a budget of $20 million. The film grossed roughly $51 million at the box office. That’s $30M domestically, $21M Internationally, and it went on to make another $17M in the home video market bringing it’s total to almost $78 million!
In an interview published on Gizmodo Hawke discussed the potential for a Daybreakers sequel or prequel. “I imagine sometimes that Daybreakers could be Mad Max and the sequel to it could be Road Warrior. You know how different Mad Max was to Road Warrior, maybe Road Warrior is such a great sequel because it was completely different. But I’m really interested to see what it’s like in Nebraska with the subsiders. It could get really wild.” If you ask me that sounds flipping awesome! Imagine it: Dalton (Hawke) just roving the wasteland saving infected souls and helping survivors. I’d watch that! The Spierig brothers also discussed the potential for a prequel film looking at the outbreak of the virus and how the decent and fall of society went down.
Personally, I think it would also be cool to see how the formation of the upper class of vampires happened. Were they already in power and just held onto it? Or were they a proletarian-type class and when they saw an opportunity they seized it?
All in all, Daybreakers is a fun ride that gives a fresh take on the classic vampire tale. Across the board, the cast gives it their all by keeping you on the edge of your seat. The Spierig brothers truly deliver and prove that they deserve to join the ranks of directing duos like the Wachowski sisters. Teams like the Spierig brothers show that there can never be too many cooks in the kitchen.
This movie came out at a time when one of the most beloved genres of film seemed to be at a stalemate, so this felt like a blast from the past. Daybreakers is what vampire movies are supposed to be, scary. If you’re looking for a flick full of love triangles and sparkly skin, this isn’t for you. If you found yourself longing for the days of yore when vampire flicks had you turning up your collar and flipping on the lights, then grab some popcorn and get ready for some gore.