DAYBREAKERS is a film that has run through 99% of its good ideas by the time the opening credits have concluded. At least the stylish, if occasionally obvious, art direction gives the audience something to occupy its collective self as the half-baked tale unfolds.
The time is 2019, and a bat-borne plague has turned all but 5% of the worlds population into vampires. They follow many of the usual vampire rules: no reflection in a standard mirror, sunlight flambés them, and wooden stakes makes them explode with a fiery finality. They also need human blood in order to survive. At least, that is, survive coherently. Short-sightedness about the available human resources has resulted in a shortage, a dire one as the film begins. Or so says Charles Bromley (Sam Neil), CEO of the worlds leading blood pharmaceutical company. The supply is so low that theyve taken to farming the few remaining humans, bleeding them dry as a corporate policy that isnt, in this case, metaphorical. Aside from being hungry, a lack of human blood has devastating side-effects for vampires. They turn into something that looks less human and more bat-like, but without the innate charm of the chiroptera. It also makes them turn on each other. This puts all the more pressure on Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), chief hematologist and less than enthusiastic bloodsucker, turned by his own brother, to perfect the blood substitute that will prevent the vampires from being done in by their version of a monster, or from turning into one.
It sounds so very good and yet, in the hands of the Spierig Brothers, it has all the life of a vampires (non)heartbeat. Great ideas are tossed in without being actually integrated into a flowing storyline while everyone talks sotto voice between the pyrotechnics. By the time Willem Dafoe turns up as the man with an inadvertent solution to many, but not all, the problems, not even his quirky intensity can help. Hawke, wan and pale for a reason this time, never quite overcomes a bland sort of somnambulance, while Neil, who can evince a devastatingly cool malevolence, purrs his lines with something less than conviction and, when given something meaty to do, turns it into ham.
The cleverest thing going here is styling it to look as though these denizens of the dark are in a film noir, complete with fedoras, smoking, and, except for Hawke who rumples the very air around him somehow, sleek soigné costuming for the vampires. It fails to compensate for bone-headed moves by the humans such as running into a tunnel and out of the sunlight to avoid vampires. It also fails to compensate for pacing that turns even a putatively high-speed car chase, with guns blazing, into the cinematic equivalent of two tortoises racing, and racing with no commitment whatsoever.
DAYBREAKERS reminds us that human nature, even undead, is pretty much universal. Vampires fret about dingy teeth, family entanglements are messy, and greed trumps ethics. Alas, even a piquant foray into the ecclesiastical with a tangential sort of communion that wont take no for an answer. It also reminds us that good ideas are the start of the cinematic journey, not the end.