'Daybreakers': Troublemakers In A Vampire Nation

W: Ethan Hawke

Everything's At Stake: Hematologist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) finds himself caught up in a power struggle in a future world where vampires — his own kind — rule a starving planet. Ben Rothstein/Lionsgate hide caption

itoggle caption Ben Rothstein/Lionsgate

Daybreakers

  • Directors: Peter Spierig, Michael Spierig
  • Genre: Horror
  • Running Time: 98 minutes

Rated R: Blood, skin and violence

With: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill

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The year is 2019. The good news: Seven years after the Mayan Long Count calendar predicted the cataclysmic end date for humanity — or some cheesy, Towering Inferno-style approximation thereof — civilization as we know it is still recognizably intact. The bad news, as envisioned by the ambitious new sci-fi/horror hybrid Daybreakers: The vampires are in charge.

Adding to the many George Romero-style horror allegories of recent vintage — and with a corporate-monarch villain who owes something to Dennis Hopper circa Land of the DeadDaybreakers lays out a world with many of the problems and simmering anxieties of our own.

The vampires have an energy crisis too, you see, but instead of blood for oil, blood is oil — a precious resource that's diminishing rapidly as the human population dies out.

As corporate scientists like cutting-edge hematologist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) work on synthetic blood — an elusive "clean coal" for the fang-bearing set — supply shortages are driving a dangerous wedge between the haves and the have-nots. While Dalton's nefarious boss (Sam Neill) sips premium plasma from a wineglass, the less fortunate vamps wither into feral, savage creatures called "Subsiders," who feast indiscriminately on anything that moves.

There's no shortage of heady conceits at play in Daybreakers, including the amusing notion that blood-rationing baristas hold the thin line between civilization and chaos. But the Australian filmmakers Peter and Michael Spierig, who wrote and directed, set the table without following through on the meal.

Willem Dafoe i i

Aiming For A Fix: Willem Dafoe's rebellious human vampire hunter isn't entirely satisfied with the status quo. Ben Rothstein/Lionsgate hide caption

itoggle caption Ben Rothstein/Lionsgate
Willem Dafoe

Aiming For A Fix: Willem Dafoe's rebellious human vampire hunter isn't entirely satisfied with the status quo.

Ben Rothstein/Lionsgate

It's an advance on their last effort — the dire zombie slapstick film Undead — but Daybreakers has the same haphazard, seat-of-the-pants inconsistency. One minute, it's a gruesome exercise in stylized hyperviolence; the next, it's a turgid chin-stroker about a gadget-filled dystopian future that's more like Hawke's Gattaca.

And that's before Willem Dafoe shows up as a trash-talking vampire slayer who helps a small band of human survivors evade capture.

Any one of these subplots might have been nurtured into the smart, punchy, irreverent genre mash-up the brothers Spierig seem to intend, but taken all together, they're a lumpy mix of half-baked ideas and fitfully inspired moments. The Spierigs have put a lot of thought into how a polite vampire society might function; in fact, with the tension between his buttoned-down lifestyle and his "animal nature," Dalton has much in common with that urbane cinematic newcomer, the Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Yet Daybreakers abandons the tense, thoughtful scene-setting and black comedy of the early going in favor of murky subterranean battles, Dark Shadows-style chamber drama, and a "cure" for vampirism that's hokey even by the standards of make-believe science. There's enough intrigue going on here for three or four different movies; the Spierigs should have settled on one.

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