Seriously, must every film be about vampires these days? I’m not trying to sound facetious; I’m being deadly serious. In the past 12 months, I feel as if I have endured every possible interpretation of the vampire mythos possible. There have been excellent films about vampires (Thirst, Let The Right One In), bad movies about vampires (Lesbian Vampire Killers, Rise: Blood Hunter) and The Twilight Saga, which are a whole category of terrible unto themselves. What with two more Twilight films to go, as well as a new Dracula film starring Sam Worthington on the horizon, surely it’s only a matter of days before my job title is changed from: “amateur film reviewer” to “amateur vampire film reviewer”. This is surely the only logical progression.
So, where do writer/directors Michael and Peter Spierig GET OFF? Who do they think they are to just waltz into the vampire genre (two years too late, mind you) and expect audiences to fork out money for their own unique twist on the classic tale of the undead? Well, I’ll tell you who they are. They are two of the most talented exports Australia has to offer, and their latest film Daybreakers is one of the most entertaining genre flicks I’ve seen in the past twelve months. While America continues to produce interminable undead dross (excluding True Blood), Australia can now proudly announce itself as being home to two of the best genre auteurs working today.
The year is 2019. It has been 10 years since much of the world’s population was transformed into a race of blood-sucking vampires; the result of a bat-related plague. Isn’t that always the way? Turning into a vamp hasn’t exactly changed the way society functions. In fact, with the exception of the insatiable thirst for blood and the need to constantly avoid the sun, being a vampire seems like a pretty trouble free existence. That is, until the humans start to run out. If the humans die, there will be no blood left for the vampires to survive. And no, just because they’re immortal doesn’t mean they shouldn’t worry. In this world, vampires don’t just get parched; they turn into even less human monsters. They mutate into a breed of giant, ravenous bats that see no problem feeding off other vampires, or alternatively, themselves.
Faced with the seemingly impossible task of developing a blood substitute is haematologist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), a self-hating vamp who is weaning himself off humans. Sam Neill plays Charles Bromley, an evil CEO (is there any other kind in movies?) who funds Dalton’s research, ironically, by farming humans and selling their blood to the hungry, deep-pocketed masses. Understandably, a small band of surviving humans don’t appreciate the way they are being treated by Bromley, and recruit Dalton to help them ‘cure’ vampirism. Led by the intense Audrey (Claudia Karvan) and the formerly undead Elvis (Willem Dafoe, not playing the actual Elvis), the trio struggle to save the vampire race from itself.
The Spierig brothers have positioned themselves as the worthy descendants of Australian genre film extraordinaire Alex Proyas and New Zealand’s thoughtful Andrew Niccol. Daybreakers feels like a cross between Gattaca and Dark City, both in style and in substance. There is an intriguing film noir vibe to proceedings here, but not in as flagrant a manner as the other films I mentioned. The picture exists in a realistic (albeit, vampire inhabited) near-future. A lot of thought has gone into the Daybreakers universe, and the enhancements made by the vampire government make a surprising amount of practical sense. The little touches make this low-budget flick feel whole.
Also like these other films, Daybreakers has a clear political agenda. Well, perhaps not a clear political agenda, but it clearly has a political agenda. Drawing similarities between blood-sucking vampires and blood-sucking corporations is no real stretch, but it’s a little bit of food for thought to enjoy amidst the hilariously gory eviscerations that occur throughout the film. And boy is this film gory. Perhaps most surprising is the Spierig brothers’ handle on action sequences; there is more than one impressive set piece in the film, and the picture concludes in a flurry of blood-letting that is sure to quicken the pulse. Perhaps I’m bias. Maybe I was just filled with patriotic pride seeing this Australian production (filmed on the Gold Coast and seemingly starring the entire cast of The Secret Life of Us). If filmmakers can produce vampire pictures as good as Daybreakers, then I’d say there’s life yet in this genre. It’s just a shame that a Daybreakers only comes along once in a blue moon. Or should that be once every New Moon?