After the dreary imitativeness of their horror-comedy debut Undead, the Spierig brothers find themselves once again on derivative ground with Daybreakers, a story situated in a future world where the dominant population consists of vampires who hunt the last vestiges of humanity for blood. Unfortunately, with mankind on the brink of extinction, a blood shortage looms, much to the chagrin of profiteering vamp pharmaceutical bigwig Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), as well as those select few who’ve learned that, without regular ingestions of the crimson liquid, the population—currently discernable from humans only by their glowing eyes and permanent fangs—will transform into wild winged mutants. Smack dab in the middle of this crisis is hematologist Edward (Ethan Hawke), who never wanted to be a vampire, is intent on finding a synthetic blood substitute, and is recruited by a human resistance led by Elvis (Willem Dafoe) that has the cure for the planet’s bloodsucking affliction.
Employing an Underworld-ish metallic gray-blue aesthetic, operatic slow-mo straight out of every other post-Matrix action film, and panoramas of human farms also reminiscent of the Wachowskis’ sci-fi trilogy, the Spierigs’ latest doesn’t do much to carve out a unique identity, save for the inclusion of a few minor details (such as cars retrofitted for vampire sunlight driving) that lend a bit of depth to their reasonably well-realized alternate universe. The Spierigs’ vision of a vampire society fundamentally similar to our own has a certain eerie charm, but their set pieces are of a mundane sort, primarily notable for their hordes of anonymous armed soldiers who explode when staked through the heart and, whether it be a car chase resolved through deus ex machina means or characters with the apparent ability to teleport out of trouble, plotting too lazy to generate tension. Hawke looks the part, but his character’s moral crisis, sibling rivalry with a militaristic brother (Michael Dorman), and romance with daytimer Audrey (Claudia Karvan) are weak sauce, and only moderately enlivened by the intermittent appearance of Dafoe in an awkward-looking athletic jacket.
In the vampires’ eventual decision to exterminate those of their own kind who’ve turned into monsters, a metaphor about callous health care expediency can be oh-so-subtly gleaned. Alas, that topical suggestion ultimately comes off as merely accidental as the film barrels toward a gruesome conclusion that’s chilling mostly because it leaves the door open for a sequel.