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Daybreakers ***

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

From left: Ethan Hawke, Claudia Karvan and Willem Dafoe fight for all mankind in Daybreakers.

(Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner)

Don’t bother trying to understand the curious logic of Daybreakers, in which the world of the not-too-distant future is overrun with vampires and mankind teeters on the brink of extinction.

It’s a familiar scenario, treated oh-so-seriously by Australian directors Michael and Peter Spierig, whose no-budget 2005 debut, Undead, was sloppy but diverting enough to earn them a call-up to the bigs. This time they’ve upped the ante with expensive-looking CGI, handsome cinematography and a veteran cast featuring Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, and the improvement is marked.

Given the shortage of fresh blood in the world, hematologist Edward Dalton (Hawke) is a very important man indeed. Charged with designing a synthetic substitute, he’s running out of time, and afoul of his bosses. His experiments yield modest success in primates but reduce vamps to so much splatter.

Could a more radical solution exist? Elvis (Dafoe) – a champion of the human resistance, not the undead Vegas crooner – thinks so. A former bloodsucker, he claims to have discovered a cure for vampirism, one that brings the body and soul back to life. Is he for real, or just another loose screw in a world full of them?

Most vampires would bristle at the notion of shuffling the mortal coil back on, but Edward keeps an open mind. He sees no glory in the annihilation of humans, and besides, there’s not enough natural blood to sustain a world of bottom-feeders. If there’s an alternative to famine, he will find it. In doing so, he creates a new enemy: Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), the reptilian entrepreneur who hopes to mass-produce a blood substitute.

Daybreakers is too apolitical to qualify as social satire, though it speaks in no uncertain terms to the dangers of exhausting the earth’s resources. As the latest entry in the vampire sweepstakes, its approach is refreshingly old-fashioned: Rather than romanticizing its bloodsuckers, as has been the trend in the Twilight movies and HBO’s True Blood, it sees them as bogeymen empowered. Freed from the shadows, they own the night.

This is the kind of movie that creates its own mythology, and while Daybreakers adheres to the rules of the genre – its vampires can neither see their shadows nor expose themselves to natural light – it introduces at least one significant new wrinkle. What is it? I’m not telling, except to say it works best the less you think about it. The same could be said for the movie, which is nicely acted, aggressively paced and a whole lot of empty-headed fun.

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