Vampires Are Very Allegorical

01/08/2010 1:30 PM |

Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig

Vampire fiction has an abundance of possible allegorical avenues to explore, and Daybreakers takes a short walk down just about all of them: is this sleek slice of dystopian futurism a parable about the unsustainability of current farming practices? Or peak oil? Or drug addiction? AIDS? Diabetes? Undocumented workers? Corporate malfeasance? Warmongering? And how does the Holocaust and rape imagery fit in? Well, it doesn’t, really. And, regarding which of those metaphors Daybreakers sticks to, the answer is: none of the above. But, as with Park Chan-wook’s recent, similarly scatterbrained vampire-epic Thirst, that isn’t necessarily a flaw.

Ethan Hawke stars as a vampire hematologist—and a vegetarian of sorts, as he refuses to drink human blood—in a future wherein an epidemic (AIDS) has made vampires (gasp!) the majority. Blood supplies are running low and he’s researching an artificial substitute (oil), while the sinister corporation (the evils of capitalism) for which he works—led by Sam Neill, looking positively Lugosian—milks the last remaining humans of their blood: they appear stacked on each other, unconscious, connected to tubes (factory farming). The population, meanwhile, is devolving into hideous batcreatures from a dearth of the red stuff (addiction/alcoholism/ketoacidosis), whom the vampires that are still healthy turn against (immigrants). “Our families are starving,” one woman says on the news. “We can’t afford to feed those subsiders, too.”

The Bros. Spierig, Australian twins, indulge in the washed-out, miserablist, quasi-Goth aesthetic familiar to the techno-dystopia, but avoid the heavy metal riffs and rapid cuts that usually accompany it; they opt, instead, for a solemn Spielbergian tone—a marked shift from their debut, Undead, a low-budget and goofy zombie flick, though Daybreakers isn’t without its cheeky, Raimian splattery: vampires explode when you stake them! (Because Hawke is around—looking gaunt and sickly—the film inevitable evokes Gattaca, too, as well as Minority Report et al.) The fantasy world the brothers fashion feels lived-in, rather than contrived and underlined point-by-point; there’s no opening title card, or even much grating expository dialogue. And the details are sharp: TV commercials advertise underground tunnel systems, alarms warn of impending sunrise, car windows are so tinted they’re opaque—for daytime driving—with external cameras and screens on the windshields, like Batmobile features made standard. Just about everybody smokes—because they’re immortal!

The Spierigs are more interested in coherent storytelling and setting than in metaphor; the point is not to sustain an allegory, but to inform the violent narrative with the Bush-era anxieties (the film was shot in 2007 and has been sitting on the shelf since) that already (still?) pervade our waking lives: wait for the slow-motion shot of two dozen soldiers bathed in each other’s blood as they tear each other apart—in the lobby of a corporate headquarters! All that’s missing is some kind of economic collapse to drive it all home.