I didn’t intend to watch Daybreakers. I was looking for a slasher film I hadn’t seen before, and found this film instead. It looked like a schlocky vampire film, and I thought that would scratch the same itch.
That’s not what Daybreakers is. Rather than being a fun, campy b-movie in the vein of Van Helsing or Underworld, Daybreakers is a surprisingly complex and polished film.
The film takes place in a world run by and for vampires. All houses and cars are fitted with shutters against the sunlight; walkways and tunnels connect all the buildings. Unturned humans are an increasingly small, hunted minority. When they are caught, they are farmed for their blood. The initial problem in Daybreakers is blood: there isn’t enough of it. As human stocks dwindle, Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) searches desperately for a substitute. Without human blood, vampires slowly degenerate, becoming mindless and feral.
When Dalton comes into contact with a group of fugitive humans, he finds himself in conflict with his boss, the vampire army, and his own brother. Working with the humans though, holds out hope for more than a blood substitute: a cure.
It’s a very polished film, with a cast of relatively well-known actors. Throughout, Daybreakers is slick and effective, not really dropping the ball at any point. It’s well-acted, very atmospheric, and has a clear narrative thread. Simply for quality and production values, it’s way above most vampire films.
One aspect I really liked is that the vampires are actual vampires, sticking to a lot of the widely-accepted mythos. Many films dispense with most of the accumulated lore, having vampires that drink blood but share no other characteristics with vampires from other works. Daybreakers doesn’t do that – vampires have no pulses or reflections, turn to ash when staked, burn up in the sunlight. They don’t have every weakness/power that vampires have ever been given, but that’s to be expected, due to the complexity and convoluted origins of the monster. They’ve got a lot though, and that’s something I appreciate.
The setting is well-constructed, showing a world that has adapted to vampires as the most dominant and numerous force. Architecture, transport, and clothing all show a world that has had a lot of thought put into it. This adds a lot to immersion – the world of Daybreakers is a world that makes sense, that could (if vampires existed) really happen.
Similarly, the plot unfolds believably. Given the situation at the start of the film, characters’ actions make sense, and their responses to events fit with their personalities and within the wider film. One of the great strengths of Daybreakers is that it is so convincing throughout; everything follows on from what has come before.
Unlike most vampire films, Daybreakers does have clear and intelligible themes. It’s a much smarter film than you might think, and much less action-heavy than I expected. It’s only really towards the end that it starts to seem more like a typical vampire film, and that, again, is something that makes sense with the ideas the film has been exploring. Daybreakers is a film that deals with conservation and identity, exploring how far people are prepared to go, and the choices that have to be made.
Daybreakers impressed me. Partly, I’m sure, because I was expecting so little from it. But despite that, it’s still a really solid, entertaining, and somewhat complex film.