Directed by Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig. Starring Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Claudia Karvan, Sam Neill, Michael Dorman, Isabel Lucas, Jay Laga'aia. (2010, R, 98 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Jan. 8, 2010
Tell any ex-smoker he has a day left to live, and I guarantee first stop will be the nearest convenience store for his preferred brand of carcinogens. The populace of Daybreakers has even less time – they're already dead, in fact; vampires, the lot of 'em – which explains why everyone smokes like a chimney. It's a topsy-turvy world where children bus to school at 2 in the morning and the local coffeehouse slings blood like java brew. But the vampire community is in crisis: With humans hunted to near extinction, there’s a serious food shortage, which is why hematologist Edward Dalton (Hawke) labors 'round the clock to come up with a blood substitute. (No luck yet: His most recent experiment ends in a gory head-spattering of the test subject.) Edward is a mournful, moral-high-horse kind of guy who gets by on animal blood and hates the rah-rah militarism of his little brother, Frankie (Dorman, one of several Australian actors recruited by fellow Aussies Michael and Peter Spierig, a writing/directing team of brothers). When a small enclave of human resistance rightly senses Edward is a sympathizer, he goes off the grid to help manufacture a cure to vampirism so improbably stumbled upon it might as well have been tied to a kite and sent out for a lightning strike. It’s a little bit silly – as is Dafoe’s Kentucky-fried cowboy mechanic named Elvis – but silly is fun. In fact, one wishes it were sillier still; Daybreakers is an ingeniously conceived, designed, and dressed piece, but whither the sex and the humor, huh? For laughs, Hawke’s ill-fitting fedora will have to do (it rides so high on his head, one wonders if there’s a Bumpit underneath). There’s no shortage of memorable images, from a human farm that recalls Coma’s creepy, hanging human shells to a shackled death march into sunlight, and the Spierigs have included some interesting philosophical flourishes. I’m not sure they entirely come to fruition, but the filmmakers must be planning a franchise: How else to explain the rushed ride off into the sunset?