In terms of allegory, the ravenous antics of the undead have found steady employment standing in for everything from soulless consumerism (Dawn of the Dead) to insurgency (28 Weeks Later), but almost always in the form of zombies. Vampires on the other hand, with all that repressed emotion, are all about making the sex (or more often not). Taking their 2003 idea of a sleepy Australian fishing berg overrun by flesh eaters and expanding it to encompass the whole world, German helmers, The Brothers Spierig, have turned the established order upside down and taken the vampire movie political.
Set in an alternate future Daybreakers posit a world where vampires are now the dominant race, and humans, hunted and herded into farms for their blood supply are on the verge of extinction. Blood is running out. Without blood the vampire population, pale-faced and red eyed, degenerate into winged beasts. Aside from a crackdown on these dangerous, sewer-dwelling victims of starvation vampire Armageddon doesn't look all that different. It's cordial, it's civilized, and both art and commerce continue uninterrupted in this bustling metropolis veiled under a blanket of darkness.
It's here in the bowels of a pharmaceutical giant, run by icy fatcat Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), that hematologist Edward (Ethan Hawke) searches for a blood substitute. One that so far carries the unfortunate side effect of the subject's head exploding. Edward never wanted to be a vampire, turned by his career military brother, who now hunts bands of nomadic humans for the farms, so naturally is the perfect choice for resistance leader Elvis (Willem Dafoe), who has the cure for the world's daylight aversion, to help replicate it.
While it is peppered with copious amounts of gore and moments of ingenious humor (Edward likes a little cream and sugar with his blood) Daybreakers never fully breaks out the fangs to take flight into the territory of hardcore horror. For every moment of visceral carnage there are another ten of people standing around yakking. Hawke is nothing if not unconvincing as humanities savior, Dafoe is a much better actor that his crass, southern cowboy character permits, and the frankly uninspired script is the very definition of functional.
Yet to dismiss the simple role reversal of the set-up and the gradual pacing as unimaginative is to miss the point. Rather that resort to gimmickry, the brothers cleverly realize that the quickest and most effective way to tap into the nasty side of our nature is to just have us go about our business as normal and wait. The Spierig's are all too aware that for all our guff about compassion and a refusal to let others suffer, mounting evidence suggests that we're quite prepared to let those different from us (in the vampire's case humans, and the crazed, half-starving sub-culture born of their own race) suffer greatly if its expedient.
These guys also know how to work a camera, and there is a sheen to Ben Nott's cinematography that lends the dimly lit interiors, the fluorescent lighting, and the deep, encompassing blackness an air of hopelessness. There is just something about the relentless dark that just kills your compassion. People, it seems, whether they dine on chardonnay or AB Negative are just not very nice. The turning of Bromley's holdout human daughter is a rape. The dragging of shackled "Sub-siders," as they come to be termed, into the sunlight is a genocide. Bromley's smug revelation that "this was never about a cure. It's about repeat business" is pure, unregulated greed. Where is the descent into chaos and slaughter? We're already there.
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill, Michael Dorman, Willem Dafoe, Claudia Karvan, Isabel Lucas
Director: Michael Spierig & Peter Spierig
Runtime: 98 Minutes