Blood Runs Dryby Dave Durbach / 08.03.2010
I’ve never been a big fan of vampire movies – the melodrama, the drooling adolescent sexuality, the powdered rakes in effeminate period attire. Give me flesh-eating zombies any day. With the living dead, it’s always party time.
Thankfully, Daybreakers combines the best of both worlds – a vampire movie that relies heavily on conventional zombie and epidemic/outbreak scenarios to tell its story. It’s set in the near future (2019), where most of mankind have been “turned” to vampires and as such bear the symptoms of your textbook vampirus horribilus – immortal, pulseless, invisible in mirrors, allergic to sunlight and addicted to blood. Be that as it may, the population proceeds with their daily (now nightly) lives – going to work, caring for the kids, etc.
Interestingly, their need for blood is treated like a chronic medication, an alcoholic fix, a sugar drive – a burden to some, a luxury to others, but a necessity nonetheless – to be dealt with while one gets on with one’s life, rather than some carnal craving. If vampires don’t get their blood, they start losing their minds, and eventually morph into “subsiders” – depraved, bat-like zombies liable to feed on other vampires, and even on themselves, which quickens their degeneration.
Ordinary humans have meanwhile become an endangered species. Most are kept in labs and harvested for their blood. The rest are enemies of the state, fugitives on the run.
With authorities failing to adequately address the mounting shortage beforehand, blood becomes a resource so scarce that your average vamp on the street, jonesing like your local tik-head, is unable to get his hands on what he needs to survive. A rapid increase in subsiders and “blood-related” chaos ensues. To cope with the problem, the growing underclass is being rounded up and exterminated en masse.
Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), chief haematolgist for a sinister and all-powerful pharmaceutical company, reluctant blood consumer and closet human sympathizer, is the one tasked with finding an effective blood substitute – one which would spell the end of the shortage and remove humans from the endangered species list. With time running out, he relies on the assistance of an underground movement of humans headed by Audrey Bennett (played by Aussie actress Claudia Karvan, doppelganger of late Isidingo actress Ashley Callie) and redneck gearhead Lionel “Elvis” Cormac (Willem Dafoe), the only man known to have converted from vampire back to human. Fraternizing with the enemy, however, puts Dalton at odds with authorities, his boss Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), his soldier brother Frank (Michael Dorman) and, of course, his own body.
Without giving too much away, Dalton discovers that the secret lies in what the vampires fear most. The solution becomes a cure for vampirism rather than a blood substitute. But who can he trust, when everyone has become a slave to their own physiological and financial cravings? The film builds up to a thrilling buffet climax – the vampires’ thirst for blood proving not only to be their downfall, but ultimately their redemption as well.
What makes Daybreakers work so well are its numerous parallels to real issues: shortages of food/natural resources and our collective inability to take necessary precautions, growing inequality and its consequences, the criminalisation of poverty, the lack of political and corporate will to ever find “a cure”. As a result, viewers can relate to the vampire’s world as one not so different from our own. Even the subsiders’ circumstances are handled in such as way that instead of them being painted as the evil enemy, the real antagonist becomes power itself, and its inevitable tendency to corrupt humanity. More than anything, the film can be read as an indictment of the global pharmaceutical racket. As Bromley (Neill in his creepiest role since Event Horizon) at one stage reveals: “It’s never been about a cure. It’s about repeat business!”
Written and directed by the Spiereg Brothers, who cut their teeth (so to speak) on the 2003 zombie flick Undead. Daybreakers opened in SA on Friday, March 5th.
Check out the trailer here. They wouldn’t let us imbed it.