Daybreakers

As horror movie season dawns upon us, I find myself with fewer exciting choices than I’ve recently grown accustomed to. (But definitely not none! The upcoming Crazies looks like it could be good enough to make up for some of this lack. Nothing will make up for missing Horrorfest this year, but when they don’t actually have a screen anywhere within 200 miles, I pretty much have to give up. I’ll host my own Horrorfest weekend once the DVDs appear, I suppose, and my concessions will be cheaper and have a broader variety! Also, alcohol.) One of these less exciting choices, to forcibly drag myself back on point, was the yet-another-vampire-movie Daybreakers. Luckily, it turns out that I misjudged it based on the previews, and it was a vampire movie in the same way Night of the Living Dead is a zombie movie: as window dressing for the plot.

Ten years after a fluid-transmitted vampire virus was unleashed upon humanity[1], dystopic societal collapse is the order of the day. Humans are nearly extinct and the lack of food supply means that vampires are already starting to follow, although their method is less pleasant than simply being dead. In the midst of this three-way social (and sometimes more literal) war between privileged vampires, their starving and grotesquely transformed underclass, and the final, hunted humans, Ethan Hawke is an ethical scientist in search of a blood substitute that can save his people and not incidentally the humans as well. The plot has twists and turns and is basically interesting, but it’s overshadowed by the sociology of the vampirism and its ethical implications. The disease started accidentally, and I’m sure some people were converted accidentally in the first days. But it eventually turned into the kind of thing that some people were doing by choice, and that some people were forcing on their friends and relatives rather than watch them gradually change from dominant species to sole food source of the new dominant species. And, meanwhile, as that food source grew scarcer and scarcer through the combination of death and transformation from food to hungry mouth, there was the new sociology of class warfare, as vampires watched themselves slowly being doomed to the same violent and hideous fate as the too-poor-to-buy-blood vampires they had ’til now been shunning.

It’s a rich cornucopia of discussion fodder: is it evil to choose immortality[3] knowing that it will be at the expense of people who did not so choose? How about once enough people are choosing it that you’re nearly certain to be killed as food, instead of only maybe? Would you consider saving someone against their will? Would you compare it to rape instead? How much would you help the poor if not helping them meant they turned into ravening monsters that tried to kill you a lot? Would you death penalize them despite their lack of complicity in these attacks? And all that stuff is just the background. So you can see why the actual storyline would kind of pale by comparison. Honestly, the only part of the movie I didn’t like that much was when, past the climactic revelations, it turned into a bloody horror film for the last five minutes or so. It was simply too much of a let down on what had up to that point been an incredibly rich premise.

[1] You can probably work out just exactly how it is transmitted, if you have ever been aware of any vampire lore.[2]
[2] If you have not, 1995 me is rolling his eyes at you, while 2010 me is ever-so-slightly jealous.
[3] This leaves aside the question of whether there was ever immortality to be had. The disease had only existed for ten years, and although people did not age anymore during that period, it’s not a nearly large enough sample period to extrapolate from, says me.

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