4K Blu-ray Review: DAYBREAKERS

The Spierig Brothers' underrated future vampire tale gets a visual upgrade for the year it took place.

A while back, Eric Trump said that "95% of the country" is on his father's (and by extension, his) side on things, which is a number even his actual supporters would probably scoff at. 95% of this country can't even agree that Jaws is a perfect movie (it's at a mere *90* percent on RT), so the idea that such a high amount would apply to anyone's political views, I mean... come on. But the quote came to mind when I was revisiting Daybreakers for the first time since theaters nearly a decade ago, because in the film's alternate future, that is the exact amount of the population that is said to be vampires - a monster the young Trump is also compared to on account of his pale skin. And the future year the 2009 film took place in? You guessed it: 2019. Chilling, huh?

Thankfully, that's the only time those particular individuals crossed my mind when giving the film a much overdue second viewing. Don't get me wrong - this wasn't me "giving it another chance" or anything like that; in fact I was a big fan when I saw it, and even included it in my book of underrated horror movies I saw during my "Horror Movie A Day" era. No, I just never found the time to watch it again, and now it had been so long that I kind of forgot about the movie's plot points - all I really remembered was "Willem Dafoe was a badass" which could basically describe him in most movies anyway. But now that it's available in 4K UHD Blu-ray from Lionsgate, I finally got in that second viewing and, I'm pleased to announce, it holds up swimmingly (and yes, looks great with the visual upgrade).

As mentioned, the movie takes place in the then-near future (now it's just "now") where vampires make up the majority of the population, and are rapidly running out of their blood supply, which mostly comes from a "blood bank" of captured humans connected to tubes (think The Matrix's power plant pods). The remaining humans are on the run/in hiding, so vampire Edward* (Ethan Hawke) is tasked with finding a blood substitute that can keep him and his fellow vampires alive so that they don't even need humans. Unfortunately the attempts have resulted in death or "subsiders", which are vampires that become bat-like creatures as a result of tainted blood, so trials are risky and the clock is ticking ever faster. Luckily, he meets a human woman named Audrey (Claudia Karvan) who promises she has a cure for vampirism itself, which will obviously negate the need for a blood substitute.

The cure she promises is one of the film's many surprises, and revealed through one of its most striking visuals, so I won't dare spoil it here for those who haven't seen the film yet. All I'll say is that the film as a whole is one of the most original and inventive vampire movies of the past twenty or so years, and deserved far better than its "first horror movie of January" fate it received in 2010 (after premiering to much acclaim at a few 2009 festivals - including Fantastic Fest!). As Twilight mania was in full swing then, it was just not the best time to release a "Vampires are scary" kind of movie (Hawke's sympathetic one is an anomaly - most of the vamps in the film, including big bad Sam Neill, are villainous), sort of like how The Thing's vicious aliens were not appreciated in the summer of ET

Luckily it was not a big budgeted film, and every penny of its 20 million dollar budget is accounted for onscreen. In addition to having a trio of well known stars in Hawke, Neill, and Dafoe in the lead roles, the writer/director team of the Spierig Brothers (coming off their indie zombie movie Undead, which was made for "the contact lens budget" of this film, per the directors) the film offers a decent amount of action, the requisite creature FX an ambitious vampire narrative requires, and occasional vignettes that sell both the concept and the film's alternate reality. I particularly loved the idea of a blood stand similar to a coffee shop, where customers begin to rebel after the shortage requires them to water down the pure blood content - it's these kind of "what if?" ideas that display an admirable amount of world building, while also not going overboard with anything that wasn't required to tell their story considering their limited means. 

The budgetary limitations are just one of the many things covered on the disc's primary bonus feature: a two hour (!) making of documentary that covers the film from initial conception, through production, all the way to its premiere at TIFF. In addition to priceless footage of Dafoe goofing off (the three leads seem to genuinely love working together), the doc offers a ton of insight in what goes on when making a film of this type - including a hilarious bit on the test screening process where we see one of the Mensa candidates in attendance wrote "seems unfinished" on his comment card. In addition to seemingly making the doc themselves (it's copyrighted to them) the Spierigs also contributed a commentary with even more info about the film's long genesis, while also discussing their influences and thoughts on film at the time. Considering that they didn't appear at all on the Jigsaw disc, it's nice to hear from them and how passionate they are about a film they believe in - they even ended up doing some of the film's visual FX themselves to save money.

A sequel was planned, and to his credit Hawke (who was hesitant to star in the first place, as he's not a big fan of the genre but was won over by the script) was reportedly very disappointed that it never happened. Too much time has passed for a direct followup, I assume, but considering that my tweeted picture of the 4K disc was my most-liked in a while, I'm hoping there's still enough interest (and newfound fans?) to revisit the world itself, perhaps in a comic or a TV show. There aren't a lot of horror properties that are notable for their interesting alternate worlds being presented (not a critique of the genre, just an observation), so it seems a shame to let this one languish when both the makers and the fans are keen for more. They got another Saw coming, but otherwise Lionsgate hasn't had much of a presence in the genre lately - here's hoping this re-release moves enough units to get them to consider returning to the Daybreakers world.

*The movie was shot before the first Twilight movie was released, so presumably no one thought twice about naming their lead vampire Edward. Oh well.