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Ethan Hawke stars in Day Breakers.

Lionsgate films

3 out of 4 stars



  • Directed and written by Peter and Michael Spierig
  • Starring Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Claudia Karvan
  • Classification: 18A

Ever since we pronounced our planet in peril, the apocalyptic mills have been working around-the-clock shifts on the big screen. There, of course, vampires are the new star employees. With their rep for sucking the life out of things, the toothy ones are an obviously apt metaphor in a time when both ecology and economy appear to be drying up. Better yet, their new relevance does nothing to diminish their old virtues. Vampires have always been sexy, their every bite a ravishing act; they've often been conflicted, simultaneously disdainful and envious of our sun-dappled mortality; and, drinking deeply, they're a model of religious observance, never missing their rite of communion. Attractive, zealous, fond of sex and violence, allegorically au courant - no wonder today's scribes are so fond of putting them on the payroll.

Directed by Peter and Michael Speirig, Daybreakers stars Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill and Willem Dafoe.

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Daybreakers works another late shift at this genre factory, and turns in a pretty solid effort. Set in a future that no longer seems all that distant, just 2019, the premise kicks in with efficient ease. Courtesy of some unnamed plague, most of us are vampires now, although not too noticeably. Beyond growing a little long in the incisors, developing an amber cast to the eyes, turning into night-owls and preferring our Starbucks lattes with a shot of Bloody Mary, we look and behave about the same, as rapaciously civilized as ever. Problem is, Mary and her fellow humans have been farmed to near-extinction. In short, our energy supply is imperilled, and the scientists at the big bad corporation are having scant luck coming up with a "blood substitute."

Chief among them is Ed Dalton (Ethan Hawke), who's definitely one of those conflicted vampires. He sips only from the lower animals and only sparingly; indeed, confronted by a band of rogue humans (led by Willem Dafoe and Claudia Karvan), our guy instantly befriends them and longs to rejoin them, to feel that vibrant pulse again. To that end, he plays hide-and-seek with the sun, treating solar power like the paddles on a defibrillator, hoping to kick-start his lonely heart.

Naturally, the corporation's CEO (Sam Neill) takes a dim view of Ed's sentimental urges. Being the sort of fellow who would serve up his own daughter as a midnight snack, he can be safely defined as the villain of the piece. But not the menace. In fact, since the vampires here act much like humans, and the humans simply act distraught, the allegory is well-served but the horror isn't. Where exactly is the scary stuff? Well, credit the Spierig brothers, co-directors Peter and Michael, with a nifty creation known as "the subsiders," a breed of unhealthy vampires who, given the blood shortage, have taken to feeding on each other, with unsightly results - a volcanic skin condition, followed by the sprouting of bat wings, punctuated by a messy tendency (whenever the movie calls for action) of exploding all over the screen like a burst pimple.

Such calls-to-action occur at the usual formulaic intervals and, to these amber eyes, are the least compelling parts of the flick. More engaging are the brothers' playful additions to the oeuvre , little narrative fillips that arise logically from the premise. Like the vampirically rich bringing up from their cellars an excellent bottle of red, popped and poured and savoured with a satisfied smile. Or like the way cigarettes are back in vogue, now that death has lost its sting. Or how the auto industry has catered to the majority, building cars that are essentially Ray-Bans on wheels, allowing their light-sensitive drivers to brave the daytime hours. And while the sex quotient is relatively low, it's still accounted for: Taking pity on Ed's self-imposed celibacy, a lovely human pricks her finger and extends him a nourishing taste. Shy but no fool, he honours her offer.

As for any deeper meaning, forget it: The symbolism is about as subtle as a fang to the neck. Really, Daybreakers is more fun than foreboding; it's fright-lite, yet that's par for the bloody course in these busy apocalyptic days. The cinematic mills may be grinding out their endgames, but no need for worry. It's still your basic entertainment factory, where even oblivion goes down a treat.

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About the Author
Film critic

Rick Groen is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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