STARRING Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Isabel Lucas, Sam Neill WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY Peter Spierig, Michael Spierig MPAA RATING Rated R RUNNING TIME 98 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY Lionsgate
While "Leap Year" serves as this week's pleasant diversion for the romantic heart, "Daybreakers" is the cure for sci-fi/horror buffs who don't want to see Cameron's "Avatar" again and who long for a bit more gore and a bit less CGI. Set in the year 2019 when an unknown plague has turned much of humanity into vampires and humans largely serve as a feeding ground for said vampires, "Daybreakers" is a dark, stylish and brooding thriller from Michael and Peter Spierig, the sibling creative team that gave us the campier and much more gory "Undead."
Two-time Oscar winner Ethan Hawke is Edward Dalton, a vampire hematologist with a gothic wardrobe and sensibility despite his human-friendly tendencies. Dalton is hired by a corporate bigwig (Sam Neill) to find a synthetic substitute for the quickly disappearing human blood that sustains the vampires. When he encounters a small band of surviving humans whose leader, Elvis (Willem Dafoe), reports the discovery of a cure for vampirism, the race is on to convince the now dominant vampires that this cure really is the best option.
While the story itself in "Daybreakers" often flags, the film is carried by a weighty cast and the stellar, mood-altering production design of George Liddle and team.
While Hawke has never been one of my favorite actors, think Michael Cera with an attitude, one has to respect the guy for continuously pushing the envelope and refusing to be cornered into any particular film genre. Along the way, he's become quite the fine actor and he certainly owns the screen in "Daybreakers."
Speaking of which, hasn't Willem Dafoe had quite the year? Between his work in Lars Von Trier's "Antichrist" and Werner Herzog's "My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done," (plus his voiceover work in "Fantastic Mr. Fox") DaFoe seems to be having quite a blast becoming a go to guy on the indie side of Hollywood.
Along with the film's style and wisely paced flow between moments of pure and unbridled gore followed by sublime, eerie thrills, the Spierig brothers infuse "Daybreakers" with an undeniable conscience that smacks down with all the subtlety of their gore scenes. These vampires, perhaps better than in any recent films and certainly better than any vampire films based on schmaltzy teen novels, are fully developed and vibrantly alive creatures portrayed in such a way that they do, indeed, mirror the humanity they've practically erased.
There's no denying that "Daybreakers" is flawed and these flaws, mostly in story and occasional over-indulgence in campiness, will bother some more than others. However, for those weary of Cameron's CGI excess and longing for a return to dark, brooding gore "Daybreakers" will be a breath of fresh air.
Kudos to the entire production team, with a special mention for Ben Nott's camera work. It should be noted that George Liddle also supplied the film's costuming, an opportunity to make both the setting and the characters complement one another that works quite nicely.