Short version: Despite a very interesting premise, Daybreakers fails to rise above its average script and mediocre action sequences.
Screen Rant's Rob Frappier reviews Daybreakers
We've seen goth vampires stalk the night dressed in S&M-inspired leather (Blade). We've seen Victorian vampires roam cobblestone streets in corsets and capes (Bram Stoker's Dracula). We've even seen sparkling teenage vampires brood through the halls of their high school (thanks a ton, Twilight). To my knowledge, though, we've never seen a movie where society is completely controlled by vampires, and therein lies the best part of Daybreakers, the new film from the sibling writer-director team of Peter and Michael Spierig.
Daybreakers takes place in 2019, ten years after some kind of outbreak has turned the majority of the world's population into vampires (the movie is vague in explaining exactly how this outbreak occurred). In an excellent opening montage, the film shows the result of the vampire takeover: A world pretty much the same as when humans ran things. Vampire politicians bicker on cable TV, vampire businessmen ride the subway to and from work, and homeless vampires beg for spare, um, blood.
Okay, so it's not entirely the same. Still, just like us, the vampires do have problems. For one thing, the declining human population has forced the vampires into a crippling blood shortage (a thinly disguised allusion to our mismanagement of natural resources and our dependence on fossil fuels.)
If that doesn't sound bad, it's because you don't know what happens when vampires don't get their blood. Trust me, it ain't pretty. As shown in the picture below, when a vampire goes too long without blood, they turn into giant bat-like creatures called "subsiders." Subsiders have incredible strength, little to no brain function, and, most importantly, they don't mind eating other vampires.
Because of the increasing subsider problem, the vampire world is relying on industrialist Charles Bromley (played with sinister corporate cunning by Sam Neill) and his chief hematologist Edward (played by Ethan Hawke) to develop some kind of blood alternative. Edward, who has never been cool with the whole being a vampire thing, hopes that the blood alternative will help stop vampires from hunting and farming humans. Unfortunately for him (and even more unfortunate for the humans), Bromley's plan involves keeping the blood alternative for mainstream use but continuing to sell human blood to the upper class.
Given this conflict of interest, it's no surprise that Edward joins up with a small band of human resistance fighters (whose ranks include Willem Dafoe), to develop a possible miracle cure for vampirism. From here, the film devolves into a series of average action sequences as Edward tries to figure out the cure before the army tracks him and his human friends down. I don't want to share any spoilers in this review, but I have a feeling that you'll be able to guess what happens from the time Edward joins with the humans to the film's inevitable conclusion. Horror fans will be pleased to know that there is a healthy dose of gore throughout the film, but, for me, the constant barrage of blown up/burned/devoured bodies was a bit of overkill, especially at the end.
In speaking with fellow Screen Rant scribe Ross Miller about the film, we both came to the conclusion that Daybreakers didn't do enough to live up to its ambitious premise. Despite a few humorous lines, the movie took itself way too seriously to be enjoyed as either a dark satire of corporate greed or a campy splatterfest. Conversely, the characters weren't developed well enough and the plot was too predictable to work as a moody sci-fi/action/horror thriller. In essence, the movie was a run-of-the-mill piece of genre fare, albeit one with a remarkably original idea.
Despite my disappointment with Daybreakers, however, I firmly believe that the Spierig brothers have a lot of potential to become successful Hollywood directors. While the story fell flat, the work that the directors put into making a world run by vampires seem real is worth noting. Additionally, while the action scenes didn't generate much excitement (and they were few and far between) they did look good. Considering the film's minuscule budget (a measly $21 million), this is another achievement worth mentioning.
All things considered, is Daybreakers a bad movie? No. Was it anything other than average? Unfortunately, no. Have you ever gone into a movie with high expectations because of a really great trailer? That's what happened to me with Daybreakers. The vampire genre has been so played-out lately, that I thought Daybreakers would provide a refreshing twist on a story that has become stale. Unfortunately, the tease of the trailer was never fully realized. I wanted to find out what would happen in a world run by vampires, and, in a way, I did. However, for me, seeing how vampires ran their society was more interesting than watching Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe trade pithy one-liners as they "raced for a cure."
Ultimately, I would recommend checking out Daybreakers if you're a vampire movie buff or a big fan of gore. At the very least, you'll be getting a unique take on a genre that's been done to death. I'm hoping that the potential demonstrated by the Spierig brothers in this film will translate into something even better for their next outing.