Daybreakers (2009)

Bloody hell

Thanks to the success of the behemoth Twilight franchise and glosy US TV shows like True Blood and The Vampire Diaries, vamps are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. But bloodsuckers are nothing new in horror, with filmmakers throughout the ages – from Todd Browning (Dracula, 1931) to Joel Schumacher (The Lost Boys, 1987) and Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark, 1987) – attempting to put their own spin on a well-worn genre. Now it’s the turn of German brothers Michael and Peter Spierig, whose Daybreakers is an intriguing and mostly successful entry into the overstuffed vamp stable.

It’s the year 2019, and a plague has turned most of the human race into vampires. Most of these fanged figures live as humans used to; earning a living, raising families etc, all under the cover of night. There is a growing problem, however, in that the supply of human blood is dwindling, giving rise to a violent race of vamps who will attack anything to survive. Dr Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is working on an artificial blood substitute but, when he teams up with a group of human survivors, realises there may be a more permanent solution to the problem – a cure for the vampire plague…

Despite its futuristic setting – all gleaming, soulless buildings and blacked-out cars – and sophisticated exterior, underneath its designer look Daybreakers is far-removed from the worlds inhabited by Edward Cullen and Bill Compton. The vampires here are dirty, wild beasts – even those who wear a suit and tie reveal themselves to be bloodsuckers of the nastiest order. It’s only Edward who has some sympathy, coveting a humanity that drives his alliance with the survivors and providing an access point into the narrative.

Although some of the gore has been restored for the DVD release, which ups the certificate from a 15 to an 18, the real fear factor comes from its message; namely, what a seemingly civil race of people are prepared to do when their precious resources start to run out – and the abuse of power handed down from those in authority that accompanies such a crisis. It’s a chilling allegory that has parallels in our own society, and one that is handled with a great deal of intelligence. True, it’s hardly groundbreaking stuff, being derivative of everything from I Am Legend to Ultraviolent, but its attention to detail and narrative strength make it well worth a look for fans of the genre and beyond. 3.5 stars

Extra Features
There’s an excellent making of documentary, plus excellent commentary from the Spierig brothers and creature designer Steve Boyle. 3 stars

Ethan Hawke, Harriet Minto-Day
Directors Michael Spierig & Peter Spierig
Distributor Lionsgate
Format DVD & Blu-ray
Released May 31