The vampire genre is given a novel approach with lackluster results in this noir-ish horror film from the Australian filmmaking team of Michael and Peter Spierig. Existing in the near future, the picture hypothesizes a vampiric takeover of the Earth wherein the fanged population continues to go about their lives while humankind is drained of blood in order to keep the masses alive. The film's most delectable bits come when the vamps go through withdrawal and transform into blood-thirsty monsters, hungry for sustenance from wherever they can get it -- including themselves. These moments, expertly executed with prosthetic FX pizzazz, bring the film to horrific life, yet are too few and far between to pump enough life into this anemic tale.
The story follows Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), an undead hematologist whose work on finding a blood substitute spells hope for the future for not only a world gone fanged, but the repopulation of the human species. Though civilization continues (mostly at night), there is an underlying threat that real blood is becoming scarce -- and the blood-farming company Dalton works for needs his experiment to work whether they farm more human bodies or not. Once again, it seems that business is the key -- even for vamps -- as Dalton's boss, Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), believes that there will always be demand for the real thing, substitute or not. Things change when Dalton stumbles onto a human resistance -- lead by Elvis (Willem Dafoe), a former vampire-turned-human. With the key to turning their vampiric nation back to humankind within their grasp, the group's focus turns to survival as more and more of society degrades into monstrous versions of themselves -- with both sides vying to stay alive.
Where Daybreakers fails is not in its concept, but the sized-down story that this modestly budgeted tale was forced to tell. It seems that the money just wasn't quite there to support the more horrific aspects that the Brothers Spierig could so adeptly have accomplished. Instead, the picture gets bogged down at the halfway mark, and then switches focus from beastly creatures to SWAT-team vampires -- and, as the Underworld series has already proven, vamps with guns just aren't that exciting. The picture also never fully realizes the sheer panic of its undead inhabitants dealing with a bone-dry world (see the end of Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce for a comparison of what could have been). Instead, Neill's corporate villain is handed a side story with a human daughter angle that holds little engagement despite eating up precious running time. The gist of the vampire cure is also shaky, though it might have been forgiven if the production was given more resources to broaden its scale. As it is, the most memorable thing about Daybreakers will most likely be its aesthetics, though blue-hued cinematography and gore-filled carnage gets a little long in the tooth if that's all there is for audiences to bite into.