The end is nigh, or so many on the planet believe. Whether it be terrorism, climate change, plague, or war, many people believe the human race has not long to live. Unless we adapt and fast, we’re pretty much screwed. Is it even possible for us to adapt? And should we adapt to suit the society we have created (inadvertently or not), or should we try to change that society presumably for the better?
In Michael and Peter Spierig’s second feature film Daybreakers, the year is 2019 and due to a plague ten years previous, 95% of the human race have become vampires. The few remaining humans are either in hiding or farmed for blood. But that blood is running out and fast. Ethan Hawke plays Edward Dalton, a hematologist working for a large blood corporation in search of a blood substitute. They have discovered that if vampires do not get regular doses of human blood (or an appropriate substitute), they will become strange human-bat hybrids with purely animal instincts. Most of the vampires are content with the way things are (after all they are now immortal), but Dalton is not. His sympathies align him with one of the large groups of humans, who believe they have found a cure for vampirism.
The strength of this film is in the world it creates. With carefully considered brushstrokes, the Spierig brothers give a very thorough idea of what the world would look like if it was dominated by vampires. Windows would automatically close at sunrise and open at sunset; announcements would be made counting down to sunset; tunnels would link all buildings so people could walk around in the daytime if necessary; the vast majority would live in cities so as to have easy access to shelter; cars would come equipped with screens, cameras and monitors if one needed to drive in daylight; human blood would be added to daily coffee. But this is, of course, far from a perfect society. One would remain the age one was at infection; so children would never physically mature, though their minds would. Although schools apparently still exist, I can’t imagine any child actually attending one. Social/economic classes still exist, only the food the homeless beg for is blood. Police use very scary electric shock tongs to capture criminal vamps. And, of course, the blood is running out, which makes every vampire a little testy.
The production design is amazing. Every detail has been thought out. In this world of darkness, everything is black and gray and red. Daylight is harsh and hard. The vampires look like dusk on a cloudy day, when the sky is steel gray and the last light makes the moon look red. Even the few scenes set in the countryside show little colour, as though lack of humans drains life from the planet. In this world, Dalton is tired, and almost seems to wish for the vampires to become human-bats if only to end his own misery.
For the first half hour or so, I was disappointed with the lack of character development, especially considering the fantastic cast (Hawke, Sam Neill, Willem Dafoe). Then it occured to me that the charaters would not develop. That is the (presumed) drawback of immortality. Since you are going to live forever, why try to learn anything? Why bother with progression? You are caught in a permanent character stasis, with no drive to improve yourself. Since death is all but erraticated (presumably, since there are police, the vampires probably still murder each other occasionally) the world is caught in a permanent time lock; the mind is as static as the body.
In the end, I found the plot almost secondary to the larger ideas and questions posed by the world of the film. It is an allegory for many specific issues faced by the planet today: the oil crisis, famine, natural disaster, epidemics. All of these things would lead to the same result: the exinction of the human race, a world where you must either be very smart or very cruel to survive. Is survival at any cost acceptable? If living forever means this kind of world is it worth it?
Michael and Peter Spierig have created a fascinating and chillingly believable possible future. Between this film and 2008’s Let the Right One In, it would seem we are entering a renaissence of good vampire movies, ones that use the vampire as a symbol and rhetoric of the human condition.