Daybreakers 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack
Sink your teeth into the vampire horror flick Daybreakers, on 4K for the first time! Here's our review!
In the near future, after a virus has turned most people into vampires, the few remaining humans partner with a sympathetic nightwalker (Ethan Hawke) in an effort to save mankind. Also stars Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, and Claudia Karvan. Directed by the Spierig Brothers.
Released in 2009, Daybreakers has developed a bit of a cult following over the past decade, thanks in large part to the vision of writers/directors The Spierig Brothers (Peter and Michael), in their first major studio film.
The duo, who would go on to direct Jigsaw and Winchester, come from a visual effects background, and it shows. They understand how visual effects should be used, especially on a limited budget. For Daybreakers, they don’t allow the effects to overpower the story, as is the case with so many “event” films with larger budgets. The film features an impressive blend of practical effects, makeup, and CGI, and crafts a unique setting that is both modern in look yet gothic in feel. Tone and mood are both on point, an accomplishment that so few horror films these days fail to achieve.
Set in 2019, the film imagines a (for them) near-future in which a virus has turned most of humanity into vampires. The few humans who do remain and hunted and harvested for their blood. In a sly conservation allegory, the vampires discover that they have nearly depleted the world’s human resources and will be out of blood in a month.
Enter Edward Dalton (Hawke), a vampire with a conscience. He is a scientist for a large corporation that provides human blood to the population. Edward doesn’t drink human blood - he uses animal blood, which doesn’t quite do the trick. It’s causing him to slowly mutate, so he’s trying to develop a blood substitute that could save vampires from starving and humans from being harvested.
Things get complicated when a group of human rebels led by Audrey Bennett (Karvan) approaches him with an enticing offer: they know how to cure vampirism, and offer up a former vampire, Lionel “Elvis” Cormac (Dafoe), as proof.
Dalton’s employer, Charles Bromley (Neill), isn’t ready to give up the “gift” of vampirism (he likes the idea of immortality), and turns in Edward as a traitor to his race.
Daybreakers explores some interesting aspects of the vampire genre, and the first part of the film does an exceptional job of creating a world where vampires live in a society that has developed a twisted 1940s sense of style. There’s also a cool subplot involving mutated vampires that live beneath the city, because they have gone too long without human blood and turn into the winged creatures from mythic lore.
The film becomes a conventional gorefest at the end - if you watch the “making of” documentary included on the disc and listen to the commentary, you’ll discover budget cuts led to rewrites during production that neutered the ending of the film. Still the film is an above-average entry in the vampire genre.
Ethan Hawke gives a solid performance as Edward, exuding the sort of sympathy needed for the role. Willem Dafoe chews up the scenery (as he is known to do) as Elvis, and Neill adds the right gravitas in a key role. He does make a great villain, as any fan of The Omen films can attest.
Seeing the film in 4K also highlights one of the film’s flaws: some of the CGI effects aren’t quite up to par. In situations where the effects are more subtle (like vampire wings and artificial sunsets), the effects work well. The more in-your-face they are, the less they hold up. When vampires are caught in the sunlight, they burst into flame, as they are wont to do. These effects in particular do not look good, even by 2009 standards.
Although the ending does not fulfill the potential of the first two acts, Daybreakers manages to be one of the better vampire movies of recent years. The look, the mood, the social commentary, and the performances in particular elevate it above other entries in the genre. Hard-core horror fans won’t be disappointed, as the vampire action goes full-throttle in the third act, featuring some impressive makeup that frankly I had hoped to see more of.
Having never seen it prior to the 4K release, Daybreakers is a far better film than I expected, adding layers of context to an interesting spin on the vampire genre. It doesn’t quite stick the landing, but that doesn’t detract from the entertainment level. It’s an engaging and unique horror film, with nice performances all around.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
Daybreakers gets a fair upgrade with this 4K transfer, although to many viewers, they might not be able to see a huge difference from the Blu-ray. While they may notice a sharper picture, the improvements are more subtle, although incidental.
The Dolby Vision adds more depth to the shadows, which the film features in abundance, but it isn’t consistent. In fact, on more than one occasion, there appeared to be some minor pixelation between the grays and blacks.
Very fine detail is notched up, and there’s much more nuance in the largely monochromatic setting. Daytime scenes seem to show the most improvement, but for darker scenes, the quality is hit-and-miss, with many scenes exhibiting soft images that appear to have undergone DNR (digital noise reduction).
The best upgrade is a Dolby Atmos mix, which does a nice job replicating gunfire and other sound effects with some punch. The score by Christopher Gordon sounds superb.
There aren’t many bonus features included on the 4K disc, but you do get an extensive documentary about the film’s production, and it’s fantastic.
The special features on the 4K disc include:
*“The Making of Daybreakers” featurette. This feature-length documentary is split into four sections: “Early Development,” “Pre-Production,” “Production,” and “Post Production.” The documentary follows the production in chronological order, from the very first inspiration for the film to its premiere at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival. There is a ton of behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with most of the key crew members, from makeup to production design. Because of that, the documentary is more than a superficial promotional piece for the film - there is a deep dive into all aspects of the film’s production. There is some pretty frank talk about the challenges they faced when the budget was cut, and the cast all provide significant insight into the film. Running Time: 2:01:38
*“The Big Picture: A Spierig Bros. Short Film.” This 2000 short film by the Spierig Brothers, which has a definite “Twilight Zone” vibe, tells the story of a young woman who is able to see her future - through her television. Running Time: 13:51
*Theatrical Trailer. The original 2009 trailer is presented in high definition. Running Time: 2:27
*Audio Commentary. The Spierig Brothers and Makeup Effects Supervisor Steve Boyle all participate in the audio commentary. It’s fairly informative, and the brothers provide some interesting insight into how they worked around the film’s budget limitations.
*Digital Copy. A code for a digital copy of the film, redeemable at services including VUDU and FandangoNow, is included. According to 4KSheet.com, the code will redeem a 4K version of the film at VUDU and FandangoNow, but not iTunes at the time of this review. However, that is likely to change, so be sure to confirm your preferred service will redeem a 4K version before using the code.
- Release Date: 9/10/2019
- Running Time: 98 minutes
- Rating: R
- Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
- Audio: English Dolby Atmos (4K disc only), English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (Blu-ray only)
- Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Spanish
- Special Features: “Making of Daybreakers” documentary, “The Big Picture” short film, Theatrical trailer, Digital Copy.
- Audio Commentary: Participants include The Spierig Brothers and Creature Designer Steve Boyle
- Label: Lionsgate
- MSRP: $22.99