TIFF Review: Daybreakers

Daybreakers (2009, directed by Michael and Peter Spierig)

When Toronto lost the Uptown Theatre a few years ago, the final movie to unspool on its screen was a silly little Aussie zombie/sci-fi romp called Undead directed by twins. It was low budget and decently inventive with home-brew effects, the kind of film fest film that's enjoyable but doesn't leave too much of an impression. Hence, my expectations were not exactly through the roof for their follow-up, Daybreakers.

I came into the theater figuring I was in for a silly vampire/sci-fi romp with a bigger budget. Instead, what I got was the emergence of two seriously talented filmmakers.

The year is 2019. A vampiric plague has swept the Earth, and the vampires have won. While civilization has continued on largely unscathed, there's a major problem with the new world order. As humankind's numbers dwindle, so too does the vampire's blood supply. With shortages reaching crisis levels Edward, the chief hemotologist for a pharmaceutical giant, rushes to find a synthetic blood substitute... until he crosses paths with a ragtag group of free humans, who offer him the possibility of finding a cure, something the powers that be will never allow.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Daybreakers is the extraordinary world the Spierigs have created. Instead of the post-apocalyptic wasteland you might expect, they've instead constructed a future moving in a straight line from the present. Their vampires still go to work (although their 9 to 5 starts twelve hours later), still drive cars (albeit with dayproofing options like heavily blacked-out windows and automated UV level warnings), still order their morning lattes (now with 20% real blood!) And capitalism still rules the day, with blood prices rising higher on the market than even oil or gold.

They've also done an great job of incorporating just about every vampire stereotype you can think of into their milieu. Edward (Ethan Hawke) is your brooding romantic, mourning his lost humanity and refusing to drink real human blood. His boss (Sam Neill) is your typical Machiavellian political schemer. And those poor vamps who suffer from blood malnutrition, or start feeding on vampire blood, turn into Nosferatu-like mutated freaks (derogatorily referred to as 'southsiders' in the film, presumably because they congregate in the dark below the subways and Subwalks).

Add to that mix some awesome creature effects from WETA, a fantastically over-the-top performance from Willem Dafoe as one of the humans (which is not to say Neill isn't sinking his fangs into the scenery too) and some nice little nods to Die Hard and Star Wars in the final act and you've got yourself one hell of an original, entertaining flick.

The Spierigs made a major step forward from Undead with this one. I'm very much looking forward to seeing where they go next.

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