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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Daybreakers (review)

Children of Men

I don’t think anyone has thought of this before, but it’s the perfect, ultimate, brilliant extrapolation of the vampire conceit: What happens once almost everyone’s a vampire, unturned humans are nearly extinct, and the tastiest, most satisfying blood — the human kind — is running out? Some literary vampire tales (and probably some cinematic ones, too, though none spring instantly to mind) have made a distinct point of noting how wonderfully ecologically aware their bloodsuckers are, careful not to overpopulate themselves lest their food supply — that is, us — be destroyed. But Daybreakers — suddenly and shockingly and unexpectedly, though it shouldn’t be unexpected at all — points out how hopelessly idealistic that may be. Vampires are still people, after all, and we’ve rarely demonstrated a huge capacity for thinking beyond our immediate desires.
And such is the case in the intensely original world of 2019 invented by the Australian up-and-comer brother filmmakers Michael and Peter Spierig (Undead). It’s 10 years after the initial outbreak of bat-borne vampirism, and civilization has not collapsed. In fact, things look remarkably as they do today, with some minor differences. Light-excluding metal shutters on windows and totally enclosed walkways connecting high-rise buildings characterize urban downtown, but people still commute to work, picking up a cup of blood-spiked coffee on the way in to the office. Public service announcements alert everyone that sunrise is imminent, and street signs detailing parking restrictions mention “school nights,” but not much else has changed. (I won’t spoil all the vampire modifications to 21st-century living — discovering them is part of the geeky joy of this film, though the Spierigs are not self-indulgent enough, thank Bram Stoker, to make them a focus; they just slide by, barely commented upon, and tickle us all the more as a result.)

The TV news is still full of scaremongering reports about scarce resources and undesirables who are making a nuisance of themselves. But the resource here is not water or oil but blood, and the undesirables aren’t terrorists or immigrants or liberals but those unfortunate — and violently dangerous — folks who find themselves without access to blood for even a short while. What happens to the Spierigs’ vampires when they go hungry is… well, I won’t spoil that, either. But it’s not good.

One company — led by a snakish Sam Neill (Wimbledon, Doctor Zhivago) in full-on evil bloodsucking corporate vampire mode; it’s not a metaphor! — is racing to create an artificial blood substitute to tide everyone over till the human population (what’s left of it) can bounce back. (One wonders whether Neill’s company is breeding the unturned — it already has them hooked up to milking machines in a factory-farm situation; but that unsettling possibility goes unexplored.) Scientist Ethan Hawke (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Fast Food Nation) is leading the research team, but he’s got some moral issues with feeding on humans — still, the final, awful stage of the vampire apocalypse must be staved off, one way or another. And then Hawke’s Edward is contacted by the human resistance (led by Willem Dafoe [The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, Fantastic Mr. Fox] and Claudia Karvan [Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith], who’s world famous in Australia), and discovers that the secret they’re harboring has an even more potent potential than the fake blood Edward is seeking.

The action is industry standard, in many ways, though the Spierigs — who wrote the script as well as directed — are wonderfully sly and witty in how they deploy it: the humans come armed with crossbows and wooden arrows; a car chase ends up taking a cue from the needs of vampires to ratchet up its suspense. It’s all the unspoken potentials of the grim world the film just scratches the surface of that so enthralls, things that are barely touched on — like the hints of how those suddenly eternally children are coping with their fates (not well) — or left as horrifying afterimages… such as the experiment with a blood substitute that doesn’t go so well. And in the clear but not overly harped upon connections to our world today, as in the disturbing and uncomfortable “othering” the vampire-humans easily engage in, looking upon the unturned as the enemy, as, ironically, less than human.

If you don’t want to have to think about anything other than gallons of blood, vampires bursting into flames, and the like, Daybreakers won’t force you to. But if you have a jones for horrors intellectual as well as visceral, this’ll go down nicely.


MPAA: rated R for strong bloody violence, language and brief nudity

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • Paul

    Okay, here’s the movie I’m looking forward to seeing. Not a sequal, something I wish I’d thought of first, and I hope the execution is up to the idea.

  • David B.

    This was the most idiotic movie I’ve seen in the last ten year. Terrible in just about every way imaginable. Mary Ann, I genuinely like your reviews even when we disagree, but somebody MUST have paid you money to say that this film was anything other that shitty, incoherent drivel. The worst part was watching Willem Defoe in the death throes of his career with lines like, “Life’s a bitch and then you don’t die.” The dunces behind this — “The Brothers Spierig” as they pretentiously label themselves — need to be locked in a room full of bulldog ants for a few weeks as payback for unleashing this pathetic mess.

  • JoshDM

    I don’t think anyone has thought of this before, but it’s the perfect, ultimate, brilliant extrapolation of the vampire conceit: What happens once almost everyone’s a vampire, unturned humans are nearly extinct, and the tastiest, most satisfying blood — the human kind — is running out?

    I do believe that was the plot being developed for a Blade Sequel and instead they did Blade 3 and then the House of Cthon or whatever, and the TV series. I didn’t see anything after Blade 2.

    Also, this.

  • MaryAnn

    somebody MUST have paid you money to say that this film was anything other that shitty, incoherent drivel.

    I promise you, you always get my honest opinion biast by nothing more than my own quirks and tastes.

    The worst part was watching Willem Defoe in the death throes of his career with lines like, “Life’s a bitch and then you don’t die.”

    Actually, Hawke’s character says that.

  • MaryAnn

    shitty, incoherent drivel

    Wait, what? I can appreciate that a movie will not be to everyone’s taste, but what was incoherent about this?

  • David B.

    I stand corrected about the quote. It must have been one of the moments when my eyes were closed from cringing. “I love me a good Bar-B-Q!” How’s that??

  • David B.

    You don’t get incoherent? Oh, let’s start with “curing” a vampire by setting it on fire and then dousing it with water, and then curing more vampires by having them drink the blood of a cured vampire. What?! It hurts too much to line up all the nonsense in this movie in its Van Helsing-like idiocy.

  • RogerBW

    Plenty of people have thought of this idea before; they just haven’t put it to film. Hollywood has finally got round to ripping off the idea from print media, twenty years late as usual.

  • Boingo

    One of the 1st suggestions to “see it,”
    I’ll have to respectfully disagree with.
    The tone was somber (of course),but too many dead spaces in keeping the plot moving- monotonous music?

    Spoiler alertorama:

    After the first neck bite,to see it repeated gets kinda teen-agerish.
    I
    wondered if someone was riding the Vampire wave? Something was wrong in the character development, especially the
    heroines. The repeated scenes of the
    “Matrix-like,” blood sucking factory
    came off like the formula “fruit cart
    crash chase scenes,” in which unoriginal writers just lifted past compelling scenes,from other
    movies, albeit, not as well done.

    The vamp to human mosh pit had me
    embarrassed for the producers. Silly.
    Why some hungry vamps leave some heads
    on,and leave others not so,forces me
    to ask:”Picky,picky?”

    I was disappointed that 3 well known
    actors were involved in this movie.
    Roberto Roddriquez/Quentin’s Vamp flick has a”camp stamp,”humor. This baby had a lumbering seriousness,which didn’t have humor/camp to fall back on. like I felt like I was back in 1972,watching a B movie.

    I hear NAPA Valley wine growers are
    talking about picketing this movie(joke).

  • MaryAnn

    You don’t get incoherent? Oh, let’s start with “curing” a vampire by setting it on fire and then dousing it with water, and then curing more vampires by having them drink the blood of a cured vampire. What?! It hurts too much to line up all the nonsense in this movie in its Van Helsing-like idiocy.

    I get that you don’t like those ideas, but they’re not “incoherent.” The movie sets up these ideas and plays them through. Maybe you think the ideas are stupid, and that’s fine, but there’s nothing “incoherent” about them.

    Plenty of people have thought of this idea before; they just haven’t put it to film. Hollywood has finally got round to ripping off the idea from print media, twenty years late as usual.

    Movies are always about 20 years behind genre literature. (It’s true of science fiction, too.) The general public simply isn’t interested in ideas in the same way that readers of genre fiction are (readers are a tiny percent of the population, nothing like the percentage of people who watch movies). So they need a lot more softening up before new ideas can be introduced to them.

    That drives me nuts, too. But as movies go, this one really is innovative, and I applaud it for that.

  • Saw this yesterday, thankfully not based on your review (because then it would be “your fault”), but because I was outvoted.

    It’s miserable.

    While I give full points for the premise and overall story arc, I give negative points for the terrible pacing, embarrassing performances and dull music. Characters became big deals without any sort of set up, and all the gory stuff brought HUGE laughter in the theater.

    When you have a great actor deliver the line “it’s as safe as bare-backing a five-dollar whore,” you are evil and need to be stopped. I hope Mr. Dafoe got paid well.

    MINOR SPOILER: Toward the end of the movie, there’s a scene shown in slow motion black and white of a bunch of vampires mauling each other for blood. One of the vampires is simply jumping over everybody like an Olympic diver. This is the funniest thing I will see in the movies in 2010.

  • Knightgee

    Just got back from seeing it. I enjoyed it. The ending felt off to me for some reason and the pacing seemed to be jumpy, at points it felt slow, at others it felt too quick,particularly the climax, but overall I enjoyed the experience, the world that was created, etc. It was also nice and gory, which I’ve been craving. Not that I’m a bloodhound or anything, but I expect my vampire movies to be nice and bloody and over-the-top and it was. I also don’t know what David B. is going on about. That movie was completely comprehensible. Maybe he missed key plot points as he was too busy cringing. Though it’s hilarious to see him insist MaryAnn must have been paid off because of how different his opinion is from hers.

  • Karin

    Sorry, MaryAnn, but I have to go with the majority vote here. I learned a long time ago that you were the reviewer whose tastes tally most closely with mine, but we’re miles apart on this one.

    My main problem with Daybreakers was its predictability. So many scenes telegraphed their direction ten minutes before they even started. You know the kind: so-and-so is going to betray so-and-so, such-and-such will happen just in the nick of time, so-and-so will show up when all hope seems to be lost and “unexpectedly” save the day to the swelling of triumphal music. Okay, what happened after “Ow” was unexpected and funny, but I saw almost everything else coming a mile away.

    BTW, I don’t know why I’m bothering to keep this spoiler free when no one else has made the effort, but what can I say? That’s just me. ;-)

  • Paul

    @MaryAnn&Roger: I always find it sadly funny when someone finds out I don’t watch much TV (in the 90s I was TV free) and they tell me I should watch TV to get ideas for my writing. So then I go into my little speech about how movies and TV are usually ripping off books, so if I took ideas from them then readers would think I was old hat.

    The only exception I know of is Nora Roberts, who wrote a book that was “Practical Magic” run into “SLeeping with the Enemy,” but she had already built up such a fan base that she could publish her grocery list.

    I’m also not sure, but it seems “Buffy” both built on the paranormal romance genre, but also increased it’s popularity. I know there were books about sympathetic, romantic vampires prior to “Buffy”, I don’t know if they were popular enough to be their own official genre until after “Buffy.”

  • Knightgee

    I don’t know if “ripping off” is the appropriate term. It’s entirely possible for two different people to arrive at the same idea without ever having come into contact with each other. Someone put it best when describing Brokeback Mountain: It was touted as a phenomenal film and a landmark, but anyone who had been watching TV or reading books for the last 10 years would likely not be seeing anything new in terms of it’s portrayal of gay issues and relationships.

    The reality is that TV and books are faster to produce and get out, thus ideas are more easily disseminated to the masses. With a movie, you’ve got phases of casting, pre-production, production, post-production and so on. A movie can be in the works for years before anyone sees it. A book or TV show comparatively take less time, so it’s not that movies are ripping these ideas off, but that they simply are behind and unaware of the things that other media have already done while they’ve been trying to get these ideas off the ground.

  • Boingo

    BIG SPOILER ALERTUS!!!!
    Anytime, you’re driving in a convoy in hostile territory,and get a flat, Keep on Driving!
    Anytime, you’re the screenwriter, please relieve
    the audience from that typical scensrio,i.e., the driver says, “Yuh, right,like I’m going to stop, Hell with the rims!”

    I did like the opening scene. I felt in that short take, the scene elicited such sympathy, that it was almost that I wished the movie was about “her” story.

  • Knightgee

    @Boingo:

    They didn’t actually know the territory was hostile(or coversely, all territory at night is “hostile” thus this place is as safe as any to stop in) and by the time they figured out what happened it was already too late, though they should have just got back into the trucks and drove off instead of trying to fend off the vampires.

  • Boingo

    Thanks for pointing it out, Knightgee.
    I figured, if I’m a smart driver in any territory, to keep moving if possible
    (could be an ambush)-assess damage later. My post was a dig at predictability; you may have seen that type of situation before.

    semi-spoiled alert

    Now I’m in the chicken squawk mode:Some weak writing concerning the cell phone scene . The whole planet’s welfare is at stake and the group allows for the lab worker to have some slack in his chit chat concerning his domestic problems? It made them look
    dopey.

  • Knightgee

    Yes, I definitely thought that was a dumb decision, they should have either told him to hang up or insisted that someone go with him. They showed not a minute earlier that they had enough forethought and distrust of him not to let him get close to them. You would think they’d have the intelligence to not let him wander off.

  • David B.

    The movie was entirely comprehensible. That wasn’t my point. In fact, it was so stupid that only an idiot might not comprehend it. As for incoherency, come on. Yes, it’s a monumentally moronic idea to “cure” vampires by setting them on fire and quickly putting them out. Beyond words stupid. But then to have other vampires get cured by drinking the blood of someone who has been slightly cooked is incoherent. One doesn’t even vaguely follow from the other. And yes, it’s stupid, too.

  • MBI

    Like “Surrogates” and “Gamer,” I’m going to forgive a lot of weak plot points because there were a lot of interesting ideas here, and I thought the vampire world was convincing and the conflict was compelling, and that goes a long way. A lot of my friends said it was hard to take seriously (head explodey!), which is true, but for some reason the mix of cheesy mock-horror and a dead-serious scenario didn’t bother as much as it did everyone else.

    If I have to pick a weak point, it’s not the highly questionable choice of vampirism cures, but the fact that a cure exists at all. The movie tries to play it both ways, having vampirism be a disease that they’re trying to cure scientifically, but no disease makes you NOT APPEAR IN A MIRROR.

    When you have a great actor deliver the line “it’s as safe as bare-backing a five-dollar whore,” you are evil and need to be stopped

    You and I have very different perceptions of what Willem Dafoe is capable of. In my opinion, Willem Dafoe was put on this earth entirely to say things like that.

  • Boingo

    Forgiving weak plot points is personal.
    I’ve done and will continue to do that. It occurs to me, that a plot is like a good or bad hypnotist. The susceptibility of the subject to being
    hypnotized varies. Sometimes, I want to be hypnotized,and it ruins the trance, when I realize,
    “Hey! wait a sec, that’s not a professional Hypno-spiraling wheel! It’s a silly, wobbly, pie pan with
    a crudely drawn spiral.”

    When too many plot stinkers get in the way, bummer-
    there goes the fun of being hypnotized.
    Next topic: The Hypnotist’s Bad Breath.”

  • Boingo

    Davib B, you made me wonder if the idea of vamp to
    human ala sun was “Stupid?” I pondered for a few sec, and decided it was “okay,” for an idea, not profound,
    but not “moronic.” I envisioned seeing my first
    “Flambe Mahi Mahi?” I wondered, how come the
    meat turned out perfectly? Thusly, “Vampire Flambe!!!”
    lol.

  • Knightgee

    As for incoherency, come on. Yes, it’s a monumentally moronic idea to “cure” vampires by setting them on fire and quickly putting them out. Beyond words stupid. But then to have other vampires get cured by drinking the blood of someone who has been slightly cooked is incoherent. One doesn’t even vaguely follow from the other. And yes, it’s stupid, too.

    What exactly is incoherent about it? No sane vampire is going to expose themselves to the sun willingly a few times and live, thus such a method being a cure that no one has discovered makes some sense. As for drinking the blood of the cured being another way to transmit a cure, we can assume the new humans have antibodies in their blood that then spread to the vampires when they drink from them. It all makes sense and is completely coherent provided you do a little bit of the thinking yourself and don’t expect the film to hand-hold you through an explanation.

  • MBI

    I really don’t think having a measured dose of sunlight cure vampirism is out of the question. I mean, we’re already dealing with bloodsucking monsters who historically are allergic to garlic of all things, so why the fuck not, right?

    But it is all awfully *convenient* at the same time, you know? That’s what bothers me about it. It’s not a dealbreaker, but the complaint isn’t entirely unfounded.

  • David B.

    Puhlease, Knightgee. It’s nonsensical and incoherent. What you apparently deem to be “thinking” is actually “rationalizing.” Hand-holding? I suppose I do if it means being led to the brink of idiocy and then jumping off. You, apparently, don’t need any help.

  • David B.

    MBI, I can kind of get the small dose of sunlight idea. Almost. I still think it’s dumb, but it’s actually a cut above the idiocy of the rest of the movie. But then having the blood of slightly charred vampire act as a “cure” for vampirism? Hilarious.

  • Knightgee

    Puhlease, Knightgee. It’s nonsensical and incoherent. What you apparently deem to be “thinking” is actually “rationalizing.” Hand-holding? I suppose I do if it means being led to the brink of idiocy and then jumping off. You, apparently, don’t need any help.

    What exactly is nonsensical about it? Please explain to me why in a movie about vampirism this cure makes any less sense than anything else in the movie? Did you also complain about the alien fuel in District 9 turning Wickus into an alien himself, because it seems to be you have a problem with suspending disbelief. Does the concept of antibodies simply escape you or am I somehow making a “rationalization” by assuming that a cured vampire would logically carry anti-bodies for their virus in their blood, an idea which makes no less sense than viral vampirism does? Do you think it’s similarly bunk when it happens in other movies involving fictional viruses and such? Regardless of whether you think it’s stupid, it was by no means incoherent, which is what you said. It follows as well as anything else does if you accept the premise of the film in the first place. And lastly, do you always resort to insults when people disagree with you or have I hit a particular nerve?

  • David B.

    Hey, Knightgee. Hold on a damn second, bub. You advise me to do “a little bit of thinking” and not expect to “hand-holding,” and I return the favor in kind. And now I’m the one who “insults people” who disagree? Are you smoking something? Really.

  • MBI

    “MBI, I can kind of get the small dose of sunlight idea. Almost. I still think it’s dumb, but it’s actually a cut above the idiocy of the rest of the movie. But then having the blood of slightly charred vampire act as a “cure” for vampirism? Hilarious.”

    Again, I invoke the “why the fuck not” defense. The narrative convenience bothers me, but the simple fact of it does not. And quite honestly, you’re failing to put up any reasons for why you think what you do.

  • Sandwichboy

    They set up very early on that vampirism is a virus. Sunlight reacts with the virus and mutates it (normally moments before destroying the host). That mutated virus then overwrites the one present in anyone that feeds off of that blood, making them human again. Really, how hard was that to grasp? Sure it’s a bit narratively convenient, but it isn’t just out of left field or nonsensical within the confines of the story. It’s RIGHT THERE.

    There was a lot of interesting world building, well executed and tense action scenes and a premise that, as far as the film world is concerned, hasn’t really been done before. Get over yourselves.

  • David B

    The mutated virus overwrites … Wait a second! That’s precisely ridiculous rationalization that I’d half expect from the dimwits behind this movie.

  • Drave

    [spoilers]
    People bitching about the cure: Actually, the purifying-by-sunlight idea settles very comfortably into vampire lore, if you ask me. Vampires are supposed to be unclean things, despised by God, which is why holy water and crosses hurt them, and why they cannot survive in sunlight. If the sun is meant to cleanse/purify vampires through fire, it makes a weird kind of sense that finding a way to bathe the body in sunlight but keep the fire from igniting fully would cure the vampires.

    Gordon: I’m sorry, but MBI won this round. Willem Dafoe was indeed put on this earth exactly to say things like that. In retrospect, I may have been kinder to Daybreakers than I otherwise would have been, considering at the time I saw it, I had been walking around Vegas with my luggage for six hours and was ecstatic just to be sitting down, but I still think it was worth seeing.

    MBI: Good call on Surrogates. It is by no means a flawless movie, but the interesting ideas explored make it worth watching.

  • David B.

    I don’t think anyone took issue with sunlight being anathema to vampires. And, yes, it makes some sense that bathing the body in sunlight might kill a vampirism-inducing virus. To me, the idiocy came in when the blood of vampires who were cured by a sunlight bath “cured” other vampires who bit them. And almost instantaneously. It’s far-fetched, silly, and cheap, in my opinion. Yes, you can come up with rationalizations to try to explain it, and people writing about vampires maybe deserve a little lee-way, but, to me, it was a non sequitur. This was the least of the movie’s problems in my opinion. Horrible dialogue, campy acting, and laugh-out-loud moments in a movie that appears to take itself quite seriously can work, but they didn’t for me. To each his own.

  • James Van Fleet

    I don’t think anyone has thought of this before, but it’s the perfect, ultimate, brilliant extrapolation of the vampire conceit: What happens once almost everyone’s a vampire, unturned humans are nearly extinct, and the tastiest, most satisfying blood — the human kind — is running out?

    Mary Ann, I love ya, but isn’t this the EXACT conceit of Richard Matheson’s brilliant vampire novel I Am Legend?

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