Debate among my friends is that the vampire mine has been stripped. They've done it all. Nothing else can be said in the matter, unless you're making something about vampires that aren't really vampires. The exploration of the nosferatu is one of the oldest in film history, of course, and the approaches to the subject matter are rich and varied. There are the ancient and secret empires of Underworld, the disturbed loners like Martin, and the Oklahoma trash clan of Near Dark. More often than not, though, it's some tired retread of Dracula or a semi-congealed mess that's been shunted straight to DVD. But now, after the cult hit of Undead, the Spierig brothers kicked a little bit of life into that torpid corpse.
In 2019, vampires rule the earth. Blood supplies across the globe have been exhausted, threatening to cast the austere, shadowy world into chaos. What few humans are left are precious commodities, of course, as Ethan Hawke and his crew at Bromley Marks have yet to successfully synthesize a blood substitute. His boss Bromley, played with the serpentine iciness of Sam Neill, cracks the corporate whip, pushing the team for his own greedy purposes. Meanwhile, the world is quickly sliding into decline. The effects of blood-deprivation aren't just starvation. It twists the otherwise human-like vamps into nasty, feral things - crazed creatures with veined wings and mottled skin. As more and more of the general population tumble down the evolutionary ladder, they go 'full Morlock' and migrate to the sewers. Hawke, with his brood dial turned all the way up to '10', wants to prevent the extinction of the humans. He finds his chance to help when he discovers a small band of living rebels, putting himself at odds with his company, his brother, and the entire vampire race.
What unfolds can only broadly be defined as horror. The presence of the vampires helps, but this is a guns blazing, on-the-lam flick. Some of the chase scenes are exhilarating and an early scene with Hawke and his brother squaring off against a Subsider will have you wincing at its intensity. The violence is explosive and punctuated with surprising sprays of viscera; it earns its R-rating with some gruesome, solid effects.
The most striking thing about the film is its style. Everything is painted with tones from a gloomy pallet. There's a bit of Blade Runner here, too, but this near future with its antiseptic facade is chipping around the edges. Every frame is gorgeous, from the blown-out tones of the daylight to the cold, hard edges of where the characters live. Speaking of the characters, everyone does a damned fine job. Almost. Sometimes Willem Dafoe is excellent. And sometimes he's in Spider-Man. Here, he sports a Southern accent that will make you cringe every time he opens his razor-thin lips. It's not quite abominable, but he could have pulled it back a few notches. He and a few forays into comic book melodrama are the only things keeping this from being flawless.
Oh, and that title is just stupid.
It warms my hate-addled heart to see a vampire flick stripped of angsty romance and metaphors for sexuality. I wanted vampire ass-kicking. Finally, someone has made a move to take back vampires, stealing them back from the homoerotic Euro-trash and the post-adolescent bodice-rippers. With Daybreakers, the Spierig Brothers have crafted a smart, violent action/horror flick that stands as one of the best bloodsucker films in recent memory. This one has it all. Vampires. Explosions. Exploding Vampires. Crossbows. Car chases.
Check William Goss' early review here.