‘Daybreakers’: not enough blood

March 11, 2010, Thursday/ 16:06:00
When I watched the trailer for “Daybreakers,” I was incredibly excited at the prospect of experiencing a future where 95 percent of the population was vampires and the remaining humans.It seemed so interesting reversing the equation -- civilization transforms, everybody lives at night and drinks blood from plastic teacups. The problem, though regrettably some trailers tend to fool the ever-ready viewer, is that while “Daybreakers” always seems to promise more than your usual gory vampire film, the philosophy that it tries to convey dwindles like the threads of a badly knit sweater. What we have here is a dark future where body parts fly in the air and gore has reached its limit.

The year is 2019, and yes, one of those epidemics has taken over the world. Our population now consists of vampires who farm the remaining humans for their blood. Make no mistake, in the beginning, there’s no violence, just vampires living their “nightly” lives, trying to make ends meet. The only attacks on humans are on the corporate scale, as their comatose bodies are kept in the depots of huge pharmaceutical companies while being sucked dry. Anyone remember the mass-produced bodies in “The Matrix”? Not much different, but not as horrifying since we saw it all before.

Our friendly vampire Dr. Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke, with his sad droopy eyes taking hold over much of his performance) is a hematologist working for the world’s largest blood bank masked as a paramilitary pharmaceutical company headed by the vulture-like Charles Bromley (Sam Neill, who excels in his onscreen metaphor of CEOs already being vampires). Edward has for a while been suffering from a huge existential problem here -- as the world’s blood supply is dwindling every day, he thinks that it’s time that the human population be restored via curing the vamps and perhaps we can all live together in true peace. Naturally, Bromley has only one concern. “It was never about a cure; it’s about repeat business,” he insists.

The problem in the new world gets worse as hungry vampires start transforming into the fiends that lore meant them to be and attack anything they can get their hands/claws on. Meanwhile, Edward hooks up with a pack of real humans, who have already seemed to have found a cure in the form of a man called Elvis (Willem Defoe, who looks like he belongs in another movie). Elvis used to be a vampire, but now he’s human again. Maybe Edward can do the same for the other vamps? But the question remains, who wants to give up immortality albeit the famine factor?

Now here’s the thing: once the blood famine is irreversible, the film loses itself in a bloodbath that should have been kept for a film striving to be less intelligent. Military men supposedly hired to summon humans start ravaging them, vampires senselessly decapitate each other and all these violent scenes are shot in such slow-motion glamour that it becomes meaningless.  Furthermore, it seems a bit ironic that there should be so much carnage in a film that constantly whines about how little global blood supply there is left. Now a vampire film without any splatter would have been genuinely intriguing.

Directing brothers Michael and Peter Spierig of Australia, who previously helmed “Undead,” present a pleasantly paced thriller that manages to raise some key questions about humanity, especially that of still opting for violence when there’s a possibility for peace. However, these questions are plastered with an unsatisfying and simplistic ending that will only satisfy the indulgences of the adrenaline-pumped teenage male crowd.

That said, the production design of the film is fantastic -- cold stone settings and buildings of the metallic kind, underground tunnels for the vamps who wish to stroll during the day and a couple of blood kiosks that are a cross between neighborhood clinics and coffee shops. There’s certainly a brave new world here, though for the life of me, I wish we had known more about the intricacies of this environment.

“Daybreakers” is one of those films in which you expect something amazingly intelligent to happen, but to the viewer’s dismay, it always focuses on the tip of the iceberg despite the meticulous decor and frills. Yet, it’s still enjoyable to watch, as long as you remember that you’re simply watching a headless vampire film and not a glimpse of dystopia.

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