Movie Discussion: The Spierig Brothers’ Daybreakers (2009)

  • Monthly Theme: Vampiresdaybreakersposterfixed
  • The Film: Daybreakers
  • Country of origin: Australia
  • Date of Australian release: February 4, 2010
  • Date of U.S. release: January 8, 2010
  • Studio: Lionsgate, et al.
  • Distributer: Lionsgate
  • Domestic Gross: $30 million
  • Budget: $20 million (estimated)
  • Directors: The Spierig Brothers
  • Producers: Peter Block, et al.
  • Screenwriters: The Spierig Brothers
  • Adaptation? No.
  • Cinematography: Ben Nott
  • Make-Up/FX: Clint Ingram, Steven Boyle, et al.
  • Music: Christopher Gordon
  • Part of a series? No.
  • Remakes? No.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? No.
  • Other notables?: Yes. Hollywood stars Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill.
  • Awards?: Visual Effects Award at the 2010 Australian Film Institute. Best Sound Mixing at the 2010 Australian Screen Sound Guild. Best Makeup/Creautre FX at the 2011 Fangoria Chainsaw Awards.
  • Tagline: “In 2019, the most precious natural resource… is us.”
  • The Lowdown: This is another vampire films that draws heavily from the zombie and splatter movie traditions. Daybreakers is set in a dystopic future where most of the world’s population has been turned into vampires and are facing a blood-supply shortage as the human race is hunted to the brink of extinction. Ethan Hawke stars as a vampire virologist working on a bioengineered blood substitute that can solve the worldwide hunger crisis. He then falls in with a band of renegade human survivors who may have a cure to vampirism, which the multinational vampire pharmaceutical company he works for will do anything to stop.

If you haven’t seen Daybreakers our discussion will include massive SPOILERS. 

Kristine: So we just discussed From Dusk till Dawn and now let’s move on to a bird (bat) of a totally different feather… Daybreakers.

Sean: Ok, so I actually feel like this pair of movies is the most “boy” stuff we’ve watched. Like made for boys, by boys. Daybreakers is a totally different kind of boy movie than From Dusk till Dawn, but still….

Kristine: Oh, absolutely. I mean, all the brother stuff alone.

Sean: What did you think of it?

Kristine: Well, I was surprised by how much I liked it, because I don’t think it is a great movie. But I thought it was quite a decent vampire movie, and I was thoroughly engaged.

Sean: Yes. Better than 30 Days of Night (that other mediocre vamp movie we watched)?

Kristine: Yes quite a bit better, though nothing yet has beat the design of the vampires in 30 Days of Night. Those vampires were the best. The screaming?

Um… Amish vampires in a Starbucks commercial?

Sean: I just want to say that the Grand Guignol setpiece that ends Daybreakers is amazing and made me love the movie so much more than I would have normally.

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: And don’t hate me for being an English major, but the political implications of that scene make it all the better.

Kristine: You are a smarty for picking this movie right after we watched to From Dusk till Dawn. The fact that the characters in Daybreakers all have emotional conflicts, relationships and motivations is such a contrast from the nameless, thoughtless, meaningless stripper vamps in From Dusk till Dawn. And I don’t know how it did it, but the bleakness – both aesthetic and narrative – of this movie didn’t destroy me or bore me, as it usually does in such movies. Finally, my favorite part of the movie was how much detail went into creating  movie’s society. I like how the Spierig Brothers actually took the time to create a fully realized world, and carried out the implications of what a major societal change would mean to all members of that society. Again, it’s a sharp contrast to From Dusk till Dawn, where all the action and consequences happen in this isolated, mythical place.

Sean: Yeah I agree. I was impressed by how cool the world of this movie is.

Kristine: It reminded me of what I like about True Blood (which I wish it did more of): delve into the socio/political makeup of this new world order the characters find themselves in.

Sean: It’s really a well-thought out and conceived universe.

Kristine: Yes. I really appreciated it. And they do it without glaring exposition scenes either. That’s hard to do.

The Apprentice Season 17: All-Vampire Edition. I think Pam from True Blood will DESTROY.

Sean: I was wondering what you’d think, because this movie is way more “sci fi” and “action” than I’d expect you to be able to tolerate. Also, it stars Ethan Hawke.

Kristine: I thought so too, but I really got into it. I usually am bored with a black/grey/red palette and think it is a lazy aesthetic short cut. But it all worked. If they had the humans dress in gauzy white dresses and Hawaiian shirts for contrast I would have rebelled. And I didn’t mind Ethan. It was the opposite of my experience with From Dusk till Dawn, which was totally overshadowed by the celebrity of Clooney, Tarantino and Juliette Lewis. But here, I could totally forget the actors’ off-screen personas. It helps that Ethan Hawke is a bit tabula rasa anyway.

Sean: Yeah it is so weird, because I often find myself rolling my eyes at shit that takes itself too seriously (Project Runway) and preferring shit with a sense of self-parody (RuPaul’s Drag Race) and yet, between these two movies I prefer the more serious one, and roll my eyes at the campy one.

Kristine: Agreed. Yeah, I was surprised at how I got into the (completely ludicrous) science stuff. I liked how the antidote worked. I also really liked some of the blood shots – like Ethan’s milky blood coffee? Again, the attention to detail of this world.

Sean: Yes, the sun thing is cool and the antidote leads to that glorious feeding frenzy at the end. I think maybe the intense, splattery gore helped undercut the seriousness of the movie and made it really work for me. Like when Ethan gives the soldier the trial blood substitute at the beginning and that propulsive vomiting and explosion, that shit is hilarious. And it’s more funny because the world of the movie takes it seriously.

Kristine: Oh man that exploding soldier was great. I mean, a lot of this movie is not that original or smart – the military is evil, rich people are evil, Ethan Hawke needs a pretty woman to make him want to be human, blah blah.

Sean: Agreed. Lots of clichés. I also loved the “subsider” that wandered into his house and that his brother kills. When it jumps up onto the ceiling? Awesomeness.

Kristine: The subsiders were really cool.

When you cross a Pottery Barn catalog, crucifixion iconography and the Real Housewives of Sydney Australia you get… this.

Sean: I thought so, too.

Kristine: I loved the intruder. He was badass and so neat and also so gross and pathetic. I thought the makeup/special effects/whatever were top notch there.

Sean: It was a really smart way to get both the “Nosferatu” and the “Dracula” type vamps into the same universe.

Kristine: I really liked how drinking your own vamp blood monster-ifies you.

Sean: I thought Ethan Hawke’s brother was kind of fly.

Kristine: I knew you would.

Sean: He had a bit of River Phoenix-ness to him.

Kristine: I didn’t see that at all.

Sean: Well, it’s there.

Kristine: If you say so…. (It’s not there).

Sean: All the actors in this movie are Aussies and Kiwis other than Willem and Ethan.

Kristine: The weakest point of the movie for me was the human survivors gang.

Sean: Yeah, the movie really drags in the middle section that features them.

Kristine: When their convoy gets stopped? I felt terror and unhappiness but I didn’t care about them at all.

Sean: I thought that concentration camp slow montage of chained-up subsiders was ridic and stupid.

Kristine: Yeah, they clearly had the technology to kill them other ways. But I didn’t have such a strong negative reaction to it.

Sean: But how the directors were clearly evoking Holocaust imagery? It felt….wrongheaded. Just bad taste.

Kristine: I thought it was just a quick way to show the subsiders in all their grotesquerie, and show the brutality and shortsightedness of the military thugs. But, yeah, I see your point.

Sean: Agreed, it does those things. Can I just say, Who likes Sam Neill? No one.

Kristine: I do.

Sean: You do? In what?

Kristine: In this.

Sean: I kind of liked him in Jurassic Park III when he’s eyefucking the hot young stud the whole movie and you realize the whole thing is a coded gay love story. That was cool, but normally I am just like, ‘No.’

Didn’t Indian Jones fight one of these bat-men in the Temple of Doom?

Kristine: Umm, who saw Jurassic Park III?

Sean: I did. In the theater.

Kristine: So, do you want to know the part of Daybreakers that creeped me out the most?

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: Okay, it actually scared me, badly. Guess.

Sean: Um…. Let me think.

Kristine: It’s more a visual then a scene.

Sean: The dad locking his daughter in the thing? And being mean?

Kristine: Nope.

Sean: Oh I know. It was the scene where: “real rape two daughters tied up fuck get cooked death video.”

Kristine: You are such an evil bastard. [Editor’s Note: Someone Googled the phrase “real rape two daughters tied up fuck get cooked death video” and thus found their way to our blog, according to the WordPress Site Stats. This is, according to Kristine, the most upsetting set of Google search terms ever, in the existence of the Universe, and gives her nightmares.]

Sean: Dying.

Kristine: I am staring at my computer, silent and unamused.

Doesn’t it look like this subsider got caught doing the Electric Slide in this photo?

Sean: Oh god. Everyone tiptoe around Kristine and her “real rape two daughters tied up fuck get cooked death video.”

Kristine: Stop it. Okay, it was the shots of the harvesting chamber. Holy shit that was creepy and horrible and I hated hated hated it.

Sean: Oh. All the bodies?

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: Plugged into machines?

Kristine: Yes. And sitting upright. It was so awful.

Sean: Yeah, kind of a lift from The Matrix but it was more sinister here.

Kristine: It was more concentration-campy to me, even more so then the forced march in chains.

Sean: There were pregnant women scattered around in that shot of the chamber. I thought that was like, them being controversial. Interesting that you thought it was more concentration-campy than the Auschwitz Boogie scene.

Kristine: Yes, because of the scale. I associate huge amounts of wronged bodies with concentration camp imagery. And the bleakness. And the clinical-ness. That scares me more then like, a squalid jail cell.

Sean: You’re right, it is Nazi mad doctor shit. Also the film is about fascism, so… makes sense. Which makes the feeding frenzy at the end totally genius.

Kristine: Like I said, I thought the twist was really great. I loved the end when the soldiers fed on the re-humanified vamps, which made them human, which made them victims of the other vamps, and so on. It was a great domino effect and both fun and scary, when the re-humanified vamps realized their comrades were going to eat them. And I loved Ethan standing in for us, the viewer, at the security camera throughout. Just a well thought out scene. You know what the big blood-bank of human bodies reminded me of? But it might be a false memory. Okay, remember the original V television series? I only watched like 3 episodes back in the day and it traumatized me.

Fascist all-boy soldier blood orgy. AKA Eastern European gay porn.

Sean: Oh god V. I loved that shit. They rebooted it a couple of years back on ABC and the reboot was wretched.

Kristine: Wasn’t there some sort of human harvesting in that?

Sean: Yeah something like that. And V was a clear-cut Holocaust parable, for sure. In fact some of the characters had survived Auschwitz.

Kristine: Oy vey. Well, I don’t remember any scenes but I remember being upset.

Sean: A lady swallows a live guinea pig in a famous scene.

Kristine: Okay, I do remember that. Aren’t the aliens, like, all ‘80s glamoured out? Like, Dynasty aliens?

Sean: Yes. It is amazing. And Marc Singer, the Beastmaster himself, is the lead and it is joy.

Kristine: I am googling “Dynasty aliens.”

Sean: So, I just also want to say that I thought the vamp-kills in Daybreakers were fun and explosive.

Kristine: I agree. Again, the subsiders were awesome also.

Sean: I loved when the one explosion knocked Ethan across the room. Amazing. That lead actress?

Kristine: She was nothing.

Sean: Holy poor man’s Famke Jannsen, right? In fact, I’m pretty sure that when I first saw it I thought it was Famke for the entire movie.

Kristine: A nothing. A wisp in a dirty tank top. No bra, by the way. Did you notice her erect nipples throughout?

Sean: I missed her nips.

Vampire entrepreneurs of the future are obsessed with 1950s kitsch so… that’s a thing.

Kristine: Things I didnt like: the pretense that there was a female lead when her role was utterly disposable. The occasional tries at ‘witty’ one-liners. And, sorry, but… Willem Defoe did not do it for me.

Sean: Willem. His turn in Wild at Heart ruined him for life for me.

Kristine: I mean, he didn’t offend me but I thought he, and all the other humans, were such low points. And the attempts to humanize him with like, his custom autobody paint shop career? I do not care about his classic cars. I do not care, Sam-I-Am. Anyway, what did you not like about Daybreakers?

Sean: I didn’t like the middle section of the movie with the humans. But I did like the scene where Ethan is turned back human by getting burned by the sun. I also thought the movie’s stance of science was weird – because Ethan’s scientific search of a cure is in vain, but instead the real cure comes from something almost spiritual – this religious ritual burning from the power of the sun. It felt very “hand of God” to me, that cleansing fire.

Kristine: It’s funny because you brought this up earlier with From Dusk till Dawn, about the vamps acting zombie-like. I really thought the subsider vamps in this acted and looked exactly like the zombies from The Walking Dead. Like, that forced march scene could easily have been in The Walking Dead.

Sean: Yeah, the whole corporate atmosphere of the movie reeked of zombie apocalypse to me.

Kristine: Absolutely, agreed.

Sean: I mean, the idea that there’s been a big event…. and now the military/police run the world (here they’re backed by corporate power).

Kristine: Right, and the whole starving angle – again, like you said, they capture both the “Dracula” and “Nosferatu” ends of the vamp spectrum.

Sean: So do you think 30 Days of Night would fit easily in with this pair of movies?

Kristine: Um, 30 Days of Night is different because it is isolated. The vamps are so alien and mysterious. They aren’t everyday folk like in Daybreakers or From Dusk till Dawn. And they are much more powerful. In both these movies, the vamps are highly vulnerable, right? And not smart – totally driven by their base desires.

The idea for this scene of decapitated Sam Neill came from Nicole Kidman’s private Dead Calm set diaries.

Sean: Yeah the vamps are feral. The vampires in one movie are debased Mexican “trash” and in the other they’re fascist goon squads. You know it is interesting to think about them both as “infection” narratives. And if From Dusk till Dawn has any kind of interesting subtext, I think it’s in how it plays around with American fears of being “polluted” by Mexico. Whereas Daybreakers takes a more straightforward “infection as mass brainwashing dystopic Nazi corporation” angle. So in some ways, this movie could be satisfying to a liberal audience, the same audience that is being baited by From Dusk till Dawn. That movie is blowing raspberries, sticking it’s tongue out at a “sensitive” liberal audience, where this one is like, confirming that audience’s worst fears about corporate and military power. So, we should note, this is that rare liberal horror movie (another thing it has in common with Night of the Living Dead).

Kristine: What did you think about the commander father who has the military brother rape-bite the rebellious daughter? At first I thought it was dumb and obvious, but then it actually kind of destroyed me. When she is lying on the floor, in pain and despair and he is looking at her with satisfaction and contempt.

Sean:  Yeah that “mean Daddy” sequence was sort of effed-up. I mean, that’s where the movie is weirdly sadistic, right? That scene is totally one of sadism and voyeurism, and it’s got an incestuous subtext.

Kristine: Yes, agreed. So, what do you rate Daybreakers? And are you shocked I dug it?

Sean: I am happily surprised you enjoyed it I thought it might make you retroactively like From Dusk till Dawn better, but that did not happen.

Kristine: Nope, the opposite if anything.

Sean: I approve.

Ratings Round-Up

The Girl’s rating: I’m traumatized but it sort of feels good.

The Freak’s rating: Problematic, but fun as hell.

6 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: The Spierig Brothers’ Daybreakers (2009)

  1. Not too much going on here…other than the par-for-the-course below average acting of Ethan Hawke. Thinly veiled allegory for the coming global oil crisis? Alternative energy?

    Coincidentally, I did a double feature with DAYBREAKERS and ANTICHRIST. Way too much Willem Defoe. WAY TOO MUCH WILLEM DEFOE OHMYGOD.

  2. Yeah I totally agree this is a lefty parable about energy, corporatization, etc. Ethan has kind of grown on me: Training Day, that Assault on Precinct 13 remake and this movie all charmed me and helped rehabilitate him. I just remember seeing Explorers when I was a kid and wanting to punch him in the face a thousand times and watch him cry. Also, Before Sunrise/Sunset are wonderful, so he’ll always have those.

    Antichrist HAHAHAHAH! Oh no! Now Willem is in this 4:44 Last Day on Earth bullshit? Why is he the king of tedious pretentious arthouse crap?

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