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Review: 'Daybreakers' a solid horror film

By Tom Charity, Special to CNN
Ethan Hawke has work to do as a scientist in "Daybreakers."
Ethan Hawke has work to do as a scientist in "Daybreakers."
  • "Daybreakers" about vampires running out of humans to suck on
  • The vamps, led by Ethan Hawke, are trying to find a blood substitute
  • Movie is boosted by clever touches and good performances by the leads
  • Movies
  • Ethan Hawke
  • Willem Dafoe

(CNN) -- Question: What happens when a society can no longer feed itself?

Answer: It tears itself apart.

That's the nightmare facing the Earth just ten years from now, according to this snappy horror thriller from brothers Michael and Peter Spierig ("Undead"). Only there's a twist. By then, they suggest, the planet's dominant species will be vampires.

Having quickly "turned" the vast majority of the human population, the bloodsuckers have adapted existing social structures to their own ends: Most citizens still take the subway to work for instance, only nowadays most work the night shift. They still enjoy coffee, but instead of cream it's laced with plasma.

The only trouble is, they're victims of their own success. Humans are running out, and the vampires' primary source of sustenance is dwindling to a trickle. Even immortals need to drink.

Ethan Hawke is scientist Edward Dalton, whose attempts to concoct a synthetic substitute -- "untrue blood"? -- aren't going too well, judging by the spectacularly messy first tests. You can tell by his hat and his goatee -- as well as his aversion to a bloody cup of java -- that Dalton isn't comfortable in his new light-sensitive skin. Meanwhile, starving vampires are feeding on their own kind, bringing society to the edge of collapse.

The vampire fad can't last forever (can it?), and it's hard to see "Daybreakers" turning on the "Twilight" crowd; it's way too gross for teen girls. On the other hand, horror geeks will relish the slick finish and sharp detailing, numerous savvy little touches that offer welcome distraction from a rather sketchy storyline about Dalton's involvement with a band of human guerillas led by "Elvis" Cormac (Willem Dafoe), who claims to have discovered a solution to the predicament.

Elvis' big secret is actually a bit underwhelming, and the budget clearly didn't stretch to accommodate the filmmakers' grand conception for this grave new world -- which basically comes down to three or four key locations.

But how cool is Dalton's customized saloon car, with video monitors fitted behind a blacked out windshield to allow daytime driving? Better yet, you have to love the way his face fails to reflect in the side mirror. Comparisons with "I Am Legend" don't do justice to how imaginatively the Spierigs have redesigned vampire lore for a sophisticated 21st-century society.

That imaginative reach doesn't extend to the characters -- not by a long shot. At best, the likes of Sam Neill (blood-sucking CEO) and Dafoe (eccentric survivalist) flesh out B-movie archetypes with professional expertise, but other roles (Neill's daughter, Hawke's brother) are so malnourished they practically evaporate before our eyes.

Several witty gore scenes are more like a George Romero zombie opus than a vampire flick (not a bad thing in my book), while the glossy visuals suggest the Wachowski brothers (and especially "The Matrix") are a significant influence. But the movie starts running around in circles when it should be coming to a point.

Less than meets the eye, "Daybreakers" doesn't offer much food for thought, but at least it should tickle the palette of jaded horror fans.