The Viewer's Angle
Daybreakers is the kind of action film that I wait all year for, but thankfully Hollywood saw fit to bestow it on us the first week of January.
Daybreakers tells the story of a world where most people are vampires, and humans are a scarce resource quickly running out (read: oil, water, food, etc.). Our hero, Edward (Ethan Hawke) is a vampire hematologist with a conscious, searching for a human blood replacement and abstaining from the authentic stuff himself.
Society is beginning to crumble as the human blood supply dwindles, leaving the have-nots with no food source (the rich and military employees still manage to get by, as always.) More frighteningly, without blood, vampires don’t simply starve, but turn into very scary mindless monsters that appear to be in extreme suffering.
Daybreakers greatest strength is the quality of the action sequences. This film literally had me hyperventilating – I got a full cardio working just sitting in the theater and loved every minute of it. A new twist on the old car chase is superbly tense, and a home invasion scene feels completely real in spite of the supernatural elements. But what really makes the action exciting is the audience’s investment in the characters, an important storytelling aspect that current blockbusters refuse to bother with.
Some critics have belittled Daybreakers because it is a genre film, complete with massive amounts of gore. I think, however, that it is the perfect antidote to the insipid vampire tales we have recently been besieged with. This film is genre at it’s best, incorporating an attractive noir style of cinematography and staging and using the form to comment on a broad range of ethical issues.
Daybreakers refers to a broad range of ethical and social issues, but most prevalent is the fate of an advanced society when critical resources collapse. The story challenges those who feel the US is somehow immune to massive human tragedies and that such problems (genocide, mass starvation, civil war, etc) are the fate of undeveloped countries. Visuals from the movie, however, echo films on WWII, reminding us that similar barbarity has touched the Western world within the last century. The unsettling message is that our society is not so stable as we like to think.
Of course, I’m willing to entertain the possibility that I am reading way too much into this film, and that it is just a good genre flick. But it is also the sophomore work of a pair of Australian brothers made for $20 million, and it is the best action movie I’ve seen since Iron Man, and I’ve seen them all.
The Feminist Angle
My only complaint here is that once again we have a male lead in a role that could just as easily have been portrayed by a woman. I tend to relate to action stars regardless of gender (yes, I am the action hero of my own life narrative), but please toss me a demographic bone! Luckily, Salt should be coming out this spring, and give me an appropriately badass female character to root for.