Sometimes, low expectations are a reviewer's best friend. I knew nothing about the new release Daybreakers, except that it had vampires in it, and they weren't romantic. Really, that's all the selling point I needed. So I was surprised when the opening credits revealed a very respectable cast -- Sam Neill, Willem Dafoe, and heck, since I'm feeling generous, I'm going to include Ethan Hawke in that category. And despite its terrible reviews, I found it to be a fairly entertaining afternoon at the movies.
The implausibility of the long-standing cinematic idea -- that anyone bitten by a vampire becomes a vampire -- has often been noted. Before long, wouldn't they become overpopulated? Wouldn't they run out of food?
That's the premise of Daybreakers, which handles the scenario fairly cleverly. The best part of the movie is all the incidental detail, which makes the vampire-dominated world seem a lot realer than anything I saw in the Underworld films. There's a grungy derelict holding a cardboard sign that reads "Starving, Need Blood." Ads exort patriotic young men to "Make a Difference" in the Vampire Army, tracking down the remaining humans to feed the population. When car doors are opened during daylight hours, a computer voice chimes "Warning: UV alert." For a movie that mainly runs on car chases, explosions, and some fantastic bloody carnage, it's obvious that someone thought hard about how civilization would cope with converting to a vampiric way of life.
The film even -- and this really surprised me -- has an almost Romero-like allegorical quality. Obviously, after the human race got over the initial shock, they assimilated the drastic changes that went with becoming Undead, and went on, more or less, with life as usual. Once almost everyone has become a vampire, people are as loath to disrupt the status quo as they would have been before. As for the remaining humans, well, majority rule seems like a fine idea, until suddenly the majority is vampires who want to drink you dry.
Hawke's glum protagonist is a reluctant vampire, who empathizes with the humans and wants to find a cure, or at least a good synthetic blood that vampires can drink instead. There's a (admittedly stereotypical) corporation more interested in maintaining its profits, and a conflict with his gung ho brother, who was floundering in life, but found purpose in unlife. He accidentally makes contact with an organized human resistance, who believe they can change the vampires back, and then the plot takes several crazy turns, but as Dafoe's character points out, none of them are crazier than the idea of dead people walking around in the first place.
Daybreakers isn't the greatest vampire movie anyone is going to see, but certainly, I don't know why anyone who liked Blade wouldn't like it. And you have my word: nobody sparkles.