Cast: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe
Direction: Michael and Peter Spierig
Genuinely spooky and startling, the second feature by the Australian twin brothers Michael and Peter Spierig (Undead) combines elements of a vampire thriller with a cautionary yarn about the evils of capitalism and the exploitation of the downtrodden.
For starters, the writer-director duo inverts the usual vampires-as-minority premise. In their dystopian fantasy, set in 2019, the humans constitute only five percent of the population. That suits the fanged folk very well except they are gradually starved for fresh supplies of blood.
Enter a research scientist (Hawke) who’s tasked to create an artificial substitute for the red stuff. His ongoing experiment is interrupted when he encounters a band of renegades led by former vampire (Dafoe) who has discovered a way to become human again. The rag-tag group now rallies to replicate the cure for the vampire affliction.
Those who thrive on gore can drink their fill from Daybreakers. More squeamish viewers, however, are likely to baulk at some of the script’s excesses. All the same, there’s no denying the distinctive cinematic style. The film keeps us on the edge of our seats from the striking first shot to the explosive finale.
The runaway imagination of the Spierig Brothers, who also designed many of the special effects themselves, is augmented by the superb production values, pulse-pounding music score and eerily atmospheric camerawork.
In their well-characterised roles, Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe are forceful yet controlled. Sam Neill is sufficiently sinister as the head honcho of vampiredom.
Expectedly, the climax paves the way for a follow-up. For once, the prospect of a sequel actually seems like a promise rather than a threat.