By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Jan. 8, 2010
In keeping with the people's mandate that no month shall go by without another vampire movie, book or TV show, the film "Daybreakers" has arrived in theaters. Its subject: a vampire named Edward who refuses to drink human blood, falls in love with a human and does battle with his own kind. Sound familiar?
Twi-hards, be warned. There is no teenage love triangle here. The only heartbreak comes when someone of the vampire persuasion gets stabbed in the chest with a wooden stake and explodes in a burst of flames. Which is often enough, in this passingly funny, moderately stylish and almost mind-numbingly gory horror film set in a world in which bloodsuckers are the majority, and the few humans left are hunted and harvested for their blood.
Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is the abstemious hero, a renegade vampire scientist whose lab is working furiously to formulate a synthetic substitute for human blood that will prevent his race from turning into "subsiders." They're the starving, batlike zombies that have resulted from the worldwide blood shortage brought on by the fact that draining people of their life fluid tends not to be the most sustainable method of farming. Subsiders are very bad news. And they're very, very scary, even to other vampires, but especially to people watching this movie.
One day Edward meets Audrey (Claudia Karvan), a pretty human fugitive he hides from the vampire police. Sensing his trustworthiness, she introduces him to a recovered vampire called Elvis (Willem Dafoe, looking particularly undead). You read that right: Elvis is a recovered vampire. Apparently (though Elvis doesn't know exactly how), he has managed to cure himself of his vampirism. Something involving exposure to sunlight, which normally causes vampires to incinerate, but in his case has made him human again (hence the title).
Making life difficult for Elvis and Audrey (and now Edward, who has agreed to lend them his scientific know-how and act as vampire guinea pig in their research) is Charles Bromley (Sam Neill). He's the coolly creepy vampire CEO whose company has a monopoly on human blood and who would rather see repeat customers than a cure. In one of the film's wickedly funny touches, vampire commuters are shown lining up for shots of the red stuff at a Starbucks-like blood bar. Vampire purists will also note that, unlike "Twilight," the movie's mythology respects most of the conventions of vampirology (wooden stakes, sunlight).
With its social allegory about oppression of the other, "Daybreakers" may remind some of a poor man's "Avatar" or "District 9" (another splatter film with a message). But that reading goes only so far. In the end, "Daybreakers" doesn't really want to make anyone think too hard. If that were to happen, they might stop to wonder why all the human survivors out there hiding in fear of their lives don't just become garlic farmers and call it a day.
At area theaters. Contains obscenity, bloody violence, partial nudity and smoking.