DVD Review: Daybreakers

Genre: Horror

Rating: R for strong bloody violence, language and brief nudity

Feature Running Time: 98 minutes

Studio: Lionsgate

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill and Claudia Karvan

DVD Release Date: May 11, 2010

The fact that Daybreakers sped from theater screens to DVD release in four months should be enough to throw up a blood-red flag.

Set in 2019, Daybreakers is a somewhat innovative dystopia flick centering on a world overpopulated by vampires who are quickly running out of one critical resource: humans. It is Soylent Green for the bloodsucking set.

Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is a hematologist working for a pharmaceutical company headed by Charles Bromley (Sam Neill). Dalton is searching for a blood substitute when he meets Audrey Bennett (Claudia Karvan), the leader of a group human refugees, and Lionel Cormac (Willem Dafoe), a man cured of vampirism. Bromley, however, has no interest in a cure because he sees no profit in it.

While the concept may be new to the screen, genre literature has been examining this type of scenario for quite some time. For instance, the Horror Writers of America presented Under the Fang in 1991. Edited by Robert R. McCammon, the anthology featured tales set in a world controlled by vampires and included tales by Charles De Lint, Richard Laymon, Ed Gorman and Nancy A. Collins, among others.

Written and directed by the Spierig Brothers, Daybreakers wavers indecisively between being a thriller and being a pseudo-serious allegory about the dangers of not living a sustainable lifestyle. The social commentary, however, is inelegant and ham-handed, predominantly delivered in improbable dialogue between Dalton and Bromley. The brothers do manage to deliver a few intense visual sequences, though, including one in which the subsiders – vampires who have become aggressive and animalistic due to lack of human blood – are summarily destroyed by the vampire elite.

This graphic purging of the pariahs offers a compelling metaphor, a message far more powerful than any of the film’s misplaced sermons. It’s always better to show, not tell.

Hawke and Neill deliver less than perfect performances. Both seem over-inflated, Neill trying to play the greedy pharmaceutical archetype while Hawke mopes and frets over lost humanity. Dafoe creates the most credible character in the film. Complimenting Dafoe’s performance, Karvan strikes the perfect balance between vulnerability and strength to make her character stand out.

DVD special features include the making of Daybreakers, audio commentary with co-writers/directors Michael and Peter Spierig and special effects creator Steve Boyle, poster gallery and theatrical trailer.

On a scale of 1 to 5, Daybreakers rates a 2.5.

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