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‘Daybreakers’ Give New Fang to Vampire’s Tale

"Daybreakers" puts a nice spin on the usual horror movie, offering a world where the bad guys don't win, exactly, but who we think of as the good guys have definitely lost.

Of course, this calls into question your perception of good guys and bad guys. Typically, since Bram Stoker wrote "Dracula," vampires have occupied a curious middle ground in storytelling. Yes, they kill people, suck their blood, rob them of their very humanity. When you put it like that ... On the other hand, they're just so ... cool.

Michael and Peter Spierig, who wrote and directed "Daybreakers," place their story in a world in the near future, when whatever plague caused people to turn into vampires won out; there are few humans remaining, and they hide, so that they won't be used as the bottom rung on the food chain.

But, unlike "I Am Legend," which is the story of one man's quest for survival in a similar world, "Daybreakers" is the story of the vampires trying to stay alive. With so few humans left, the blood supply is dwindling.

The trouble with the dwindling blood supply is, besides starvation, the transformation the vampires undergo when they try to feed on each other (or, in extreme cases, themselves). Then they become true monsters, the stuff of nightmares. Just ask Edward (Ethan Hawke), who finds a neighbor in his house, or at least what used to be a neighbor. Now he's a savage, winged creature desperate for blood. You might feel sorry for the guy if he wasn't so intent on ripping Edward's head off.

Edward is a researcher trying to come up with a suitable substitute for blood. He works for Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), who would of course love to corner the market on a working blood-type product.

Oh, and they're both vampires. So is Edward's brother, Frankie (Michael Dorman), a vampire soldier who hunts humans, so that they can be captured and farmed for their blood (the contraption the vampires have rigged for storing and "milking" humans is haunting).

Yet, thanks to an encounter with a human (Claudia Karvan), who is part of an underground network of survivors trying to stay alive while working up a possible cure, Edward now sides with the humans. This despite the wild overacting by Willem Dafoe as Elvis, a human with a personal line on a cure who wields a crossbow (as well as a ridiculous Southern accent that's as scary as anything in the movie).

Hawke is suitably moody and brooding as a man -- a former man -- tormented.

Neill is goofily effective as the oily Bromley, whose attention to the bottom line trumps ... what? His humanity? He doesn't have any left to begin with. Dorman's also good as a heartless sort who comes to realize the error of his ways.

The Spierigs create a nicely eerie atmosphere, one fueled on either side of the vampire equation by a desperate need for survival. "Daybreakers" isn't a great film, but it's a good one, and in a market oddly lousy with vampire tales, it's an original.

Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and brief nudity.

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