Daybreakers [2010]

The plot of Daybreakers is a well-worn path; small, intrepid group of human survivors battles against insurmountable odds to avert the seemingly inevitable destruction of the species. There is the now de rigueur motif of the evil large corporation run by an immoral genius [c.f. The Island], and the popular theme of Vampires [c.f. Twilight etc]. Having said that, the plot has much that grabs the imagination and hits a lot of emotional buttons, making this an entertaining two hours [give or take] of edge-of-the-seat thrills.

In brief, an infection that swept the world sometime shortly after the beginning of the millennium has turned the overwhelming bulk of the human population into vampires. They only come out at night as sunlight will kill them, rapidly blistering them into little heaps of ash. This fact is graphically introduced to us at the beginning where a teenage girl commits suicide by sitting outside the house and waiting for the sun to rise. Mirrors are of no use, save as rear vision mirrors for cars, as vampires do not reflect in them. Natural humans are rapidly disappearing, hunted to extinction by the military who capture them and use them as sources for blood, the essential food of the Undead.

And therein lies the problem; the world is running out of blood, and vampires who cannot get blood will eventually transmogrify into appallingly bestial winged monsters, devoid of anything but the most basic of intelligence, who will attack your ordinary vampire-in-the-street and rip him or her apart. Enter Charles Bromley [Sam Neill], chairman of a multinational corporation that procures and markets blood, a man whose only interest is making money . In addition to hunting humans to use as a source of raw material, the company also has an extensive research and development division that is seeking frantically to produce artificial blood to tide them over while they find a cure for vampirism. At the forefront of this investigation is brilliant young haematologist Edward Dalton [Ethan Hawke]. Edward has considerable qualms about harvesting humans for their blood, but sees it as a necessary evil.

Driving to work on day he accidentally runs into [literally] a group of humans who are travelling and despite his better judgement, allows them to escape. Not long afterwards they contact him as the one person who can help them find a cure, which is the only hope for humankind, and he meets Elvis [Willem Dafoe], who is a former vampire who was accidentally cured. Not long afterwards the young genius replicates the process, which means that hope is in sight.

Unfortunately he is betrayed by his younger brother, Frankie [Michael Doorman], which means that Edward, Elvis and Audrey [Claudia Karvan], a human associate and incipient romantic interest, have to flee their secret laboratory but not before Edward himself is cured. They then have to make it back to the company labs where they can reveal the secret, but once there they are quickly detected and hunted down. Audrey is captured, but Elvis and Edward escape, only to be confronted by Frankie, who is a soldier and one of the hunters. There is a fight, and Frankie, in fine vampire style, attacks and bites Elvis but in doing so the three make a remarkable discovery; a vampire who drinks the blood of a cured vampire is himself cured!

Edward returns to Bromley to find that Audrey has been strapped to a chair and the Chairman is drinking her blood, savouring every drop like a connoisseur sipping a fine vintage wine. Edward offers to reveal the secret of the cure in exchange for Audrey, but Bromley laughs; the search for a cure was only a red herring. What he wanted, what he always wanted, was artificial blood, not a cure. If vampires are cured, they will not want blood, and there is no profit in that.

The denouement comes with a truly awe-inspiring welter of blood and torn bodies as the vampires turn on their own in a frenzy of killing, while the three humans, Edward, Audrey and Elvis, ride off into the sunset, knowing that there are many troubles ahead, but the human race can be saved.

Daybreakers will not become classic cinema, and the producers know that; the DVD will be available in late June, only three months after its release in cinemas, but it is nevertheless a good solid piece of work. The plot is sound, and there are sufficient subplots and twists to flesh out the characters and the situation both. The capture of Bromley’s human daughter Alison [Isabel Lucas] and her subsequent fate gives a poignancy and depth to the problems faced by the vampires and an insight into the mind of Bromley himself. Ugly scenes leading to a food riot around a blood and coffee bar in an underground railway station give additional colour to the increasing woes of the vampires. The arrest of a homeless vampire on the verge of turning into a ghastly gargoyle highlights the horrors of daily life for the average vampire, who knows only too well that if the rapidly diminishing blood supply does not improve soon he or she will soon become one of these benighted creatures.

The acting is very creditable, with Sam Neill being Sam Neill as usual but with his enduring professionalism, and solid performances from Hawke, Dafoe and Karvan. It was also good to see the very talented Jay Laga’aia [Street Legal] on the big screen, albeit in a very small cameo role; he deserves much more exposure.

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