Year Of The Vampire: Daybreakers Is An Ambitious Vision Of A Vampiric Future

(Welcome to Year of the Vampire, a series examining the greatest, strangest, and sometimes overlooked vampire movies of all time in honor of "Nosferatu," which turns 100 this year.)

Vampire movies have been a part of cinema for a long, long time. Sure, a great many of those movies center on your classic "Dracula in a cape," and at times, that can be great. But vampire flicks that go a little bit outside the box have always been a little bit more my speed. 

Such is the case with "Daybreakers," an ambitious, kind of crazy mid-size movie that has largely slipped through the cracks in the years since its release. I'm here to propose that we absolutely should not let it slip away entirely.

Directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, aka the Spierig brothers, the film takes place a decade after a plague turns most of the world's population into vampires. But a critical blood shortage has emerged as humans are becoming scarce, causing panic and gruesome mutations amongst the vampires who now dominate the planet. Edward (Ethan Hawke) is trying to develop a blood substitute as a means to save vampire-kind when he meets Lionel (Willem Dafoe) and Audrey (Claudia Karvan). Lionel opens Edward's eyes to a new path forward involving the seemingly impossible reality that vampires can become immune to the light and once again reclaim the daytime.

What it brought to the genre

The biggest contribution "Daybreakers" makes to this well-worn genre is presenting us with a kind of simple yet intriguing question: What if the vampires won? So often we see a secret underworld of vampires that live in plain sight amongst humans. This movie posits that they would take over like a viral disease and spread like wildfire, making vampires the dominant species on the planet. We get to see what the world looks like when vampires rule it. What a concept!

While much of the movie is spent on the outskirts of the city, what we do see of the city itself is kind of like if "Blade Runner" got thrown in a blender with John Carpenter's "Vampires," while ultimately looking like it was made by the same people who made "I, Robot." Credit where credit is due: That combination is unique within the genre. But if vampires dominate the world, where do they get their food? As we know, vampires need human blood to survive, and if vampires are in control, the human population is naturally going to dwindle.

That is the crux of the film, as Edward is at odds with his bloodlust and desperately wants to find a blood substitute so humans can once again find a way to live without being in constant fear. Without being used as mere meat sacks that get brought to blood farms for profit from the biggest corporations in this vampire-dominated dystopia. It all feels pretty fresh and grand, even today, in this particular subgenre.

A big (if not subtle) metaphor

What we're left with is the conundrum of what the dominant species is to do on this planet when the natural resources it requires to live are drying up fast. Chaos in the streets, people going hungry and, in this case, mutant vampires becoming a real problem since they're turning to cannibalism. Ultimately, the Spierig brothers are presenting us with a not-so-subtle metaphor for humans depleting the planet's natural resources, using a pretty distinctive vampire tale to do just that. Again, nothing but respect for how different this movie is within this subset of popular cinema.

The one thing I will say is that, 13 years removed, this movie does suffer a bit from the time in which it was made. It very much looks like a mid-budget 2009 movie; something about the combination of CGI and the general studio style back then just produced a product that looked a little dated pretty quickly. Setting that aside, I think the benefits greatly outweigh any shortcomings that may reveal themselves through modern scrutiny. The movie still very much works, even if it does get a little cheeseball and utterly silly at times. Some of those bigger moments make for big, welcome, pitch black laughs.

My big takeaway from "Daybreakers" is that more filmmakers would do well to f*** with the genre. Absolutely see if you can find a way to make vampires human again. Absolutely let Sam Neill be the head of an evil, for-profit vampire corporation. Absolutely let Willem Dafoe say, "We're the folks with the crossbows" — which, to this day, might be one of the coolest things anyone has ever said in a vampire movie. We've been there and back ten times over with Dracula. More of this, please.