“Life’s a bitch and then you don’t die,” grumbles a straight-faced Ethan Hawke as prized hematologist Edward in Daybreakers, a slick, violent, and intensely gloomy horror/action/sci-fi hybrid that stands out in a crowded field of end-of-mankind movie scenarios. The twist this time is that he and most of Earth’s remaining population in 2019 are highly functional vampires, protected by state-of-the-art sun-proof glass and networks of tunnels. But now that humans are near-extinct, their food supply is running dangerously low, and, contrary to Edward’s statement, their hunger causes them to degenerate into destructible ravenous beasts, attacking their own kind for as little as a drop of blood.
Amid the film’s strikingly designed and realized near-futuristic world, Edward races to synthesize a viable blood substitute, joins forces with a human underground (led by Claudia Karvan and Willem Dafoe) who may hold the key to the problem, faces off with his Big Brother–like boss (Sam Neill), while also contending with his younger brother (Vince Colosimo), a die-hard vampire military man with no respect for the living.
The film falters only when it resorts to facile sibling rivalry, although this subplot makes sense considering that Australian brothers Michael and Peter Spierig wrote and directed (what is it with fraternal filmmaking teams?). In any case, their second feature more than atones for their less-than-promising debut, Undead (03), a dippy zombie flick that had moments of inspiration but little of the energy that relentlessly surges through Daybreakers.