Oh, I used to love vampires, back in the days of Christopher Lee, and have watched them done… and re-done… and re-done again over the years — each incarnation increasingly whiny, emo… and pathetically annoying. It’s been sliding downhill since the angsty Lestat and Louis, to the current…well, I shall not even utter the dreaded “T word.” But it’s pretty much remained a variation of the same old thing, vampire meets girl (or boy in Anne Rice’s case,) vampire falls for girl, girl almost falls for vampire but is saved from turning at the last minute or turned back by some miracle. Vampire possibly or possibly not killed, depending on if the studio wants a sequel. I would have sworn no one could find a new twist.
I was wrong.
In “Daybreakers” the credits open with a desolate, apocalyptic cityscape, setting an all too familiar mood we’ve seen many times. But then the shades come up as the sun falls, and the city starts swingin’…this is a world where vamps rule the roost, and damn, they got style, baby, if in a rather cold, neo-noir kind of way. I was expecting “Blade,” but this is far more “Bladerunner,” right down to their glinty eyes.
Right away I knew this was going to be eye candy, but would it have substance, even with a heavy hitter like Willem Dafoe? And despite Ethan Hawke, who I have never been particularly moved by?
Hawke plays Edward Dalton, a somewhat angsty vampire (sigh) who also happens to be a hematologist shackled with the enormous responsibility of finding a blood substitute to save both vampires and humans alike. And, oh yeah…they need that by, like, next week. ‘Cause otherwise, if they drain the last of the human blood supply, not only do humans go extinct, but vampires get to mutate into some decidedly un-stylish, batshit crazy creatures that scare even the vamps. And with good reason.
Of course, Edward is sensitive and sympathizes with humans, and is a vampire vegetarian — he doesn’t do human blood, dammit! But then, being a vampire is a bit of a touchy subject with him, as he was turned against his will by his brother Frankie (Michael Dorman), a (little too) gung-ho soldier in the vampire military, who now specializes in hunting humans. There’s some dynamic tension for you.
After Edward gets tangled up and sympathetic with a group of humans, you get the usual romantic sideline, but unlike other vampire films, instead of him turning her, she is intent on helping him turn…back to human form. And finding a cure for the vampire plague.
What does make this film different from most vampire movies is not only the noirish styling, but that someone finally explored on film the idea of vampires in crisis at the risk of running out of human blood. It is still a somewhat romanticized version of vampires, at least the non-mutated ones, but with a bit more of an edge than their frou-frou Victorian counterparts. And those nauseating emo teens falling in love. So maybe part of the reason I liked the movie is because I have to admit I set the bar pretty low for expectations as soon as you say the “V word.”
As expected, Willem Dafoe is a bit of a scene stealer, as a former vampire with a redneck drawl and a love of vintage hotrods. His name is Lionel, but you can call him Elvis…that sort of says it all, don’t you think? And Hawke is okay, which sounds like a slight, but my neutrality toward him is a step in the right direction. His performance isn’t Oscar material, but I didn’t particularly dislike it either, save the odd moments here and there.
“Daybreakers” is certainly one of the most stylish vamp flicks to roll around in a while, with a little dark humor, and a fresh twist in the usual vampire flick plotlines. I’m not sure of it’s longterm place in the grand scheme of the genre, but maybe it will usher in a new neo-noir vampire trend. That would surely make the whole genre visually exciting again, and hopefully teen-free.
Let’s just hope if there’s a “Daybreakers 2” it doesn’t star Robert Pattinson.