With so much vampire media around, it’s crucial that your film/show/shadow puppet theatre does something special with the genre. There’s no definitive mythology about vampires, which allows each piece of fiction to give it a different twist. In the case of Daybreakers, most of the world’s population has succumbed to an outbreak of vampirism. It’s unclear where it started, but now the world finds itself in an unexpected, although not unprecedented scenario, wherein humanity is wearing thin, leaving less and less blood (possibly an analogy for the oil industry?) for the sustenance of the undead population. Rather than simply shrivelling up and dying, as one would generally assume happens to vampires if they don’t feed, these creatures devolve into monstrous bat-winged creatures with superstrength and the ability to latch onto walls. The superstrength thing is explained away by the vampires’ starvation leading to reduced levels of serotonin. According to Wikipedia, this would actually be more likely to cause the vampires to become obese and possibly begin to suffer from OCD. Regardless, it’s hard to believe that these critters are amped up without the caloric energy to back it up, but that’s suspension of disbelief for you.
The most fun that can be had with this movie is in the first half hour as the cameras explore the circumstances of this vamp-centric alt-reality. Not so subtle visuals make it very clear who’s in charge and how cool you’re supposed to think it is. Whether it’s the lights going out in a subway and having some vampires’ eyes glow identically to the cigarette one smokes or whether it’s the showy few seconds where Ethan Hawke gets into (or out of, I don’t remember) a car, but all you see is an empty suit in the side-view mirror. Plus there’s the fact that everybody smokes because if you can’t die, you might as well smoke.
Speaking of immortality, until the whole turning-into-a-mindless-monster point, these vampires are only notable because of their stubborn refusal to die. They don’t get super-sight, -strength, -smell, ESP, telepathy, flight, or really anything cool except for fangs, an extended life expectancy, and serious impulse control problems. Coming back to the whole potential starvation thing, there are two separate groups working on a solution. One, a vampire group, is developing a blood substitute (like Tru Blood), that is running into problems where the vampires they test it on tend to explode. The other, a rogue human group, is working to develop a cure. They know it’s possible because of this one vampire who got into a car accident and, by sheer fortune, was temporarily baked by the sun before falling into water. Apparently the cure for vampirism is the sun, except for that it also kills you, so you’ve gotta be quick. Oh, and they can’t just treat your blood with sunlight (actually mentioned in the film) because that wouldn’t be as dramatic as seeing someone burst into flames. Oh, and the cured vampire’s name is Elvis, because of course it is.
While it may sound like I’m riffing on the movie, these are actually the parts that I enjoyed the most (up until Elvis). Once we get beyond that first half hour/forty-five minutes, the movie begins to both take itself too seriously and become a pretty darned bad action-packed B-movie. It gets caught up in the familial bond between the main character and his brother, and insists on us taking the corporate honcho seriously, all the while blowing shit up in a ridiculous and contrived final blowout. While the movie begins in a mostly enjoyable, if not stylistically prideful way, by the end, it turns into two movies competing for your attention, even though neither of them really deserves it.
Final beef: When these vampires get staked, and I do mean with wood, they explode. And I don’t mean the dust-crumbling kind of explosion like you see in Buffy. No sir, these vampires combust, complete with flames and a shockwave that can easily knock you off of your feet. Maybe they should have given up smoking after all.