Michael and Peter Spierig (henceforth the Spierig Brothers) made quite a splash in the horror community with their 2003 low-budget zombie flick Undead. Unlike the majority of horror fans I didn’t really like Undead. I thought it was a well made, but entirely too derivative film. It had all the hallmarks of early Peter Jackson and Raimi’s Evil Dead films, but it was never going to replace those classics because it lacked most of the charm that came with revisiting films like Braindead.
I did, however, think that Undead made a bit of a promise, a premonition of good things to come. If the Spierig brothers could harness their obvious talent, were afforded a bit more cash (okay…a lot more cash), and the professionalism that accompanied said cash: they could make a GREAT genre film.
It’s been a few years but Daybreakers fulfills that promise.
In a near future, where vampirism has spread like a plague, turning most of the world’s population. Humanity is on the ropes, and the vampires ain’t doing much better. Without a blood substitute they’re beginning to starve and regress into dangerous monsters (the makeups for which look a ton like the “bat” Dracula from Francis Ford Coppola’s version). Ethan Hawke (who’s a dynamite stage actor and has done some great work recently, but never in horror pictures) plays the chief scientist leading the team trying to crack the code and invent Tru Blood for his evil capitalist pig boss (Sam Neil). It gets more complex from there, but I won’t spoil it, the twists are part of the fun.
The abundance of set-pieces and relatively low scare-factor is more akin to a traditional scifi/action film, but rest assured this puppy blows away the lackluster Underworld films (a series whose aesthetic the ad-men behind Daybreakers are trying to ape in its advertising material). The plot suffers some minor pacing hiccups and the dialogue isn’t always as sharp as it could have been (Willem Dafoe’s character, in particular, seems like a missed opportunity) but it is the quality craftsmanship of the world-building and the brothers’ visual inventiveness that keep these problems so small that they barely register once the credits roll. Likewise the allegory at work (“Blood for oil!” is now: “Blood for Blood!”) is mostly heavy handed, but delivered in a way so plausible (once you swallow the main, silly conceit) that it works beautifully.
Smart without being pompous, goofy without having to wink at itself every time it passes a mirror, and with a cast that most A-list “mainstream” films would be envious of: Daybreakers is a literate and fun breath of fresh air.