We’re only a week into 2010 and I think I’ve already seen one of my top ten films this year – what’s going on? It’s not a Rom-Com, a Gross-out Comedy, or a worthy adaptation of a prize-winning book, but a movie about Vampires. A film with Vampires that actually made me jump for the first time since Salem’s Lot.
Daybreakers centres on the premise that, in the near future, a virus emerges leaving the infected as bloodsuckers and the rest of humanity near extinction. Faint hope comes in the form of Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) a reluctant Vampire and Chief Haematologist working for the city’s main blood bank and assigned the task of creating a synthetic blood supply. Success will guarantee the Vampire’s future and an opportunity for the human race to repopulate as their blood would no longer be needed. But tests prove disastrous, and only a chance encounter with some desperate humans leads to Dalton stumbling on a possible cure and the chance to rid the world of Vampires forever.
The Vampire World of 2019 is well realised and chillingly recognisable. People commute, grab a blood-infused coffee and, just to prove Capitalism is alive and well, even obey the former hierarchical structure. In one sequence we get to see a homeless vampire begging for spare blood before being dragged off by Vampire Law enforcement for being a little too aggressive. Maybe it’s just the idea of fundamentally changing something in human society and then realising that once society’s made that adjustment it reverts back to behaving pretty much like it always has, not questioning the status quo as long as it’s comfortable. This may not be the first film to do this but it does it well, and boasts a far more impressive cast than a normal Vampire run-of-the-mill flick might. Most notably Sam Neill playing a reptilian CEO who’d give any bonus strewn banker a run for their money, and Willem Defoe as Lionel ‘Elvis’ Cormac, a Vampire who’s miraculously made the shift back from the undead and may be the key to humanity’s salvation.
I’ve seen a number of reviews for Daybreakers that have been less than positive, which makes me question my over-enthusiastic judgement on this film. I’m wondering if it’s akin to giving a starving man a potnoodle and him genuinely believing it’s a gastronomic miracle. Have I been starved of decent Vampire-themed movies for so long that when a half-decent one comes along it seems like a near-masterpiece? Maybe, but I genuinely remember jumping twice in the cinema (which was twice more than sitting through Paranormal Activity) and to this film’s credit it doesn’t pander to lowest common denominator cinema and focus group pressure. There’s swearing and very gruesome moments guaranteeing a less profitable higher age viewing certificate. Human victims of Vampires in this film are not allocated through cuteness, likeability, or any of the other rules of judgement that dominate crap films. Victims are arbitrary and, as a result, more shocking than most of the fare we’re used to these days.
My final thought on Daybreakers is this. The first ten minutes started off with a well thought out, expertly handled premise that left me with a sense of dread as I thought the next eighty-eight minutes couldn’t back it up and I would leave the cinema with my usual sense of twee disappointment. Instead I departed like an idiot who’s overdosed on a Cheshire Cat, a big smile on my face from having witnessed a film that hadn’t compromised on it’s genre. A rare treat.