I’ve been woefully remiss on my moviegoing recently, but last month I did manage to catch a screening of Daybreakers. The best compliment I can pay it is that it reminded me a lot of an early 80s John Carpenter film — not one of his best, but sturdy and pulpy and entertaining — and, most surprisingly, genuinely inventive in the all-vampire society it conjured up. The problem, though, is that clever as that society was, it was obviously designed by people without serious understanding of governments and markets manage resources.
That sounds like a really obtuse criticism, and it is, in a way. Like I said, I thought the movie was a hoot. But it’s also a reason the film was only a hoot, and not a matinee classic. The movie is based around the problem of diminishing natural resources in a market-oriented democracy; without a basic understanding of how those things work, it’s hard to craft a really compelling vision of a world suffering from those problems. The film’s premise is that vampires have taken over the world, converting most of the world’s human population into fanged, deathless nightwalkers. So there are all sorts of retrofits for vampires who love blood and can’t stand sunlight: an underground “subwalk” to get around, vehicles with blacked out windows and camera systems for daylight driving, food vendors that sell coffee with a hint of blood.
Neat, right! Well yeah, but the film’s story really focuses on the politics/economics of the blood shortage; one company has been snapping up the whole human population and bleeding them dry, leaving blood in short supply. That’s a problem, because vampires can’t survive without a supply of blood. But how is the blood rationed? Who makes those choices? What are the various policies that the vampire government has proposed to deal with the problem? Early in the film, we see a debate between two vampire politicians, one who thinks that humans should be bled dry — after all, they’re food, right? — and another that thinks that people are vampires, too (basically), and should be treated humanely, with respect. The most interesting thing, though, is that there’s a news scroll at the bottom of the screen, and as the debate is wrapping up, a headline noting the blood shortage scrolls by, followed by the line, “Vampire economists say…”
And then it cuts away.
This happened at the beginning of the film. And it drove me COMPLETELY. NUTS. for the following 90 minutes. What do vampire economists think about the blood crisis? I really want to know! Is there a vampire central blood bank? Are there interest rates? Does it get used as currency? Maybe they went off the blood standard at some point?
Okay, that’s probably getting a little too nerdy. But the implication is that there’s this whole social structure organized around blood allocation. Yet all we see is a single company that stupidly burns through its resources without any interest in, say, setting up more efficient, long-term sustainable blood farms; surely a ripe human should be able to pump blood into the system for 60 or 70 years. The movie takes place just a decade or so after the vampire takeover — has no one bothered to try bleeding the humans a little more slowly, to keep them alive, and creating new blood, for longer? How many people does it take to keep one vampire alive for a year, or a lifetime? Wouldn’t there be a move for a blood entitlement, and how would demographic factors shapethat program?
Yes, it’s wonky stuff, and far too wonky, in this form, for a major motion picture, but you see where I’m going with this, right? Framed properly, questions like these could have driven in a much more interesting direction, making for a film that not only had some neat ideas, but actually had something to say.