In a journal article I swear I downloaded but can’t now find, someone applied epidemiological models to show that a true vampire outbreak, given certain assumptions about feeding habits and the inevitability of bite victims becoming vampires themselves, would last only a few days before collapsing under its own weight – the entire human population of the planet would be consumed like dry brush in a napalm blast radius, and the vampires would have nothing left to eat. Tracking down that article, reading it, and using your imagination is probably a better use of your time than watching Daybreakers.
It’s not actually a bad movie, except in the sense that it could have been much better. The premise is interesting. Ten years after the vampire equivalent of the zombie apocalypse, the human race is almost extinct. A vampire hematologist named Ed (Ethan Hawke, who confused me by looking like Christian Bale) is searching for an artificial blood substitute, without much success. When the movie opens, the vampires have about a month’s supply of blood left; worse, if they’re blood-deprived they turn into screeching bat-winged monsters who will eat just about anything, including other vampires.
So it starts out promisingly enough. There’s an interesting premise. The movie is well done visually, with an interesting Blade Runner-esque film noir vibe. But by half an hour in, the movie has apparently split into two movies, neither of which have anything to do with each other though they try very hard to pretend they do.
Ed is contacted by human resistance fighters who say they have something better than artificial blood. The “better” thing turns out to be a cure for vampirism. Ed jumps on this immediately, all “I MUST FIGURE OUT HOW THIS CURE WORKS!” – disregarding the fact that (a) the people who are vampires seem pretty happy being vampires and probably won’t want to take the cure, and (b) what the vampires need, and urgently, is blood, so at best all you’re going to be doing is expanding the vampire cattle supply. Somehow I don’t think that’s going to make the human lot any better.
So you have a vampire problem: no blood. And you have a human problem: they keep getting hunted and bled to death, and they’re dying out. Then you have the cure, which takes up the entire movie and does not really even have the potential to solve either of the problems ostensibly framing the film so in the present circumstances it’s kind of a waste of everyone’s time, including the viewer’s. It’s irksome and frustrating, because you spend the entire movie feeling like you’re waiting for someone to say something relevant and no one ever does.
The performances aren’t bad, but not good enough to save the movie. Willem Dafoe has made career hay out of playing creepy people; he’s less effective here than usual, but he’s not given much to work with. Claudia Karvan is negligible as the obligatory love interest; she and Hawke have no chemistry whatsoever and neither one seems to care. Michael Dorman steals every scene he’s in as Ed’s brother Frankie, but he’s not in enough of them. Sam Neill is competent but fails to bring anything new to the Generic Evil Businessman role.
This is one of those movies where you have one favorite minor character and pretty much twiddle your thumbs until they come onscreen again. Maybe the movie should have been about Frankie instead. That would have been an improvement.
So what’s the verdict? Two stars. It’s annoying to see a premise this promising squandered, but squandered it inarguably is. Watch it if you’re really bored and there’s nothing else on; otherwise, give it a miss.