Vampire film "Daybreakers" a bloodless affair

Sun Jan 10, 2010 10:17pm EST
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By Maitland McDonagh

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Writer-directors and special effects artists Peter and Michael Spierig's gore-soaked shocker "Daybreakers" unfolds in a dystopian future where vampires constitute 95% of the world's population and most humans are imprisoned in factory farms, systematically drained of blood and discarded when their veins run dry.

Despite the futuristic setting, the vampires are strictly old-school: There are no sparkly skinned, undead heartthrobs mooning after moody teen girls and plenty of predatory monsters who like nothing more than sinking their fangs into a nice, warm throat. But while the setting is sleek and filled with clever details, the story, in which one good vampire teams with a scrappy band of free-range humans to fight the power, is timeworn and predictable.

The copious gore evidently appealed to hard-core horror buffs. The Lionsgate film earned $15 million during its first weekend, good enough for No. 4.

The year is 2019, 10 years after a plague swept the world and left it swarming with vampires. Ruthless businessmen like Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) have made a killing supplying blood to the thirsty masses. But demand is rapidly exceeding supply, and a growing population of "subsiders" -- blood-deprived vamps who've degenerated into scaly, winged beasts -- is scaring the hell out of civilized vampire citizens.

Amid growing civil unrest, principled scientist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) abandons his research into concocting an artificial blood substitute for Bromley's corporation to join the human resistance, a small band of survivors whose leader (Willem Dafoe) has proof that vampirism can be cured. But can it be cured before the last living human is caught and sucked dry by increasingly desperate vampires?

The nightmarish future against which the Spierigs (whose only previous credit is the goofy 2003 zombie comedy "Undead") set their story is fully and effectively imagined, from the gray, glass-and-steel architecture that reflects the cold soullessness of vampires to the coffee bars where cups of java come with blood instead of milk and the corporate blood farm where naked, comatose people are suspended in metal frames and connected to tubes that extract their blood with dehumanizing efficiency.

The police round up homeless vampires like stray dogs, the military is filled with adrenaline-fueled thugs, and ordinary vampires, hooked on their creature comforts, are easily persuaded to set aside whatever consciences they have in the name of security.

But the story under this rich surface is simplistic and derivative: Its influences include Richard Matheson's novel "I Am Legend," written in 1954 and filmed three times to date; the 2006 movie "Ultraviolet"; and even Fritz Lang's 1927 "Metropolis," the pioneering sci-fi allegory about rapacious businessmen.

The Spierigs have assembled a strong cast, but even their best efforts -- notably by Neill, whose Bromley is the ultimate vampire squid, tentacles wrapped around the face of this scary new world -- can't pump any real life into the bloodless script.