Sunday, October 22, 2023

Ten Days of Terror!: Daybreakers

Film: Daybreakers
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

It’s not easy to do something really new and interesting with vampires. Make them romantic, and you’re tapping into much of the original Dracula story and also invite immediate comparisons to Twilight. Make them feral, and you’re going to court a different crowd, and you will bring up thoughts of 30 Days of Night, Blade II, and maybe Stake Land. So what kind of story is really different? Daybreakers looks to explore that concept by looking at vampirism taking over the world and dealing with what happens when the human population—and the blood—runs out.

The film takes place 10 years into the future of when it was made, back in the halcyon pre-pandemic days of 2019. At this point in the film’s story, vampirism has essentially taken hold of the world. The vast majority of people have been turned and the economy more or less carries on as it always has, albeit one formed around blood. With so many vampires, though, the human population has dwindled. Some of this is simply the rise in the vampire population, since it appears that anyone surviving a bite is quickly turned. Much of it, though, comes from the hunting of humans. The vampire population survives, barely, on animal blood mixed with lesser and lesser percentages of human blood.

The problem, and it is a very real one, is that without human blood, vampires devolve into much more bestial and terrible versions of themselves, becoming bat-like and blood crazed. These “subsiders” are an increasing problem for the vampires and an indication of what is to come if a substitute for human blood isn’t discovered soon. Working on that problem is Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), a hematologist. His boss, Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), became a vampire to cure himself of his cancer and now sees the possibility of a blood substitute as being the key to his own eternal life of wealth and decadence.

Edward, though, is genuinely looking for something to fix the current problem. When he encounters a group of humans, he protects them rather than turning them over to be harvested. This in turn causes the humans to trust him. Eventually, they invite him to meet with Elvis (Willem Dafoe), a former vampire who found himself cured and restored to humanity via a freak accident. Now he seeks a way to replicate that accident in the hopes of curing the population of vampirism and essentially restoring the world order to what it was before the plague. Assisting them are Audrey (Claudia Karvan), who rescued the suddenly-human Elvis, and Charles Bromley’s estranged daughter Alison (Isabel Lucas). Standing in their way is Frankie (Michael Dorman), Edward’s brother who loves being a vampire and who works for the military hunting and herding the last remaining humans.

There is an old school webcomic called Last Blood that has some similar themes—a world overrun with vampires and a final colony of humans who essentially need to work together to fend off a sudden onslaught of zombies—zombies created from vampires. There are some similarities, and Last Blood was started a few years before Daybreakers was released—for what it’s worth, the comic’s creator also created Marry Me, which was turned into a J. Lo/Owen Wilson vehicle last year. That said, there doesn’t seem to be a formal connection here.

Anyway, the idea for Daybreakers is a really interesting one. There are still things that can be done with vampires that haven’t been done before--Only Lovers Left Alive looks at vampirism in a world that includes AIDS. Daybreakers heads to a very logical place; what happens if vampires are real and the vampire population outstrips its food source? This is where Blade II was headed, and also in a sense where a lot of zombie movies get to as well.

The downside of Daybreakers is that it takes the story in a direction that really doesn’t work as well as it should. This could be a movie that, while it almost has to contain some action sequences, could be much more contemplative and existential. How would vampires, blessed with eternal life and youth, deal with the sudden reality that their world is going to end and that they and everyone else will devolve into feral creatures? Instead, this is really an action film in a lot of ways—there are gun battles and fight sequences that may be fun in the moment, but also bring a really good idea to a very common denominator. There’s potential for more here, but it doesn’t materialize.

Daybreakers is good, and even very good. There’s too much here that devolves into turning off your brain and letting the action wash over you, though, in what could have ultimately been a very interesting film to capitalize on a unique look at a vampire story. The deux ex machina that helps end the story doesn’t help here—we get a new vampirism cure that seems to exist solely because the film needs it too. Like the frequent action sequences, it feels lazier than a movie that starts out with this much ambition.

Why to watch Daybreakers: A very different concept for a vampire movie.
Why not to watch: It’s misfocused.


  1. I saw this and I thought it was alright. Notably as it features Willem Dafoe in another solid performance.

    1. Dafoe is pretty much always good, and I tend to like both Ethan Hawke and Sam Neill.