In 2009, a plague brought on by an infected bat transforms most of the human race into vampires. Since so few true humans survive, the vampires are running out of blood and become bat-like, psychotic Subsiders. Humans are harvested in laboratory farms. The vampires must live in underground passages and drive in UV-filtered vehicles. The few surviving humans hide in open spaces. In 2019, Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), a vampire hematologist, lives on animal blood, not human, because he sympathizes with them. With his colleague Christopher Caruso (Vince Colosimo), he tries to develop a blood substitute.
Driving home, he accidentally runs another vehicle off the road. Inside are humans and he hides them from the police. Their leader, Audrey Bennett (Claudia Carvan), learns his name. At home, Edward is surprised by his estranged brother Frankie (Michael Dorman), who offers him human blood, which he refuses. A batlike Subsider invades the house, and they kill it.
Audrey visits the next morning, inviting him to a meeting of the human underground. There, he meets “Elvis” Cormac (Willem Dafoe), a human former vampire. Before he can get the story, Frankie arrives with the police, but they escape. Then he learns that Elvis had been ejected into the sunlight by a car-crash but landed in a river. If exposed to the sun for that precise interval, they believe that any vampire can become human again.
That night, Edward meets more humans and Senator Wes Turner (Jay Laga’aia) a vampire sympathetic to humans. Vampire soldiers invade and they have to flee, but Audrey, Elvis, and Edward stay to recreate the transformation protocols. Edward is cured of vampirism. One of the captured humans is Alison Bromley (Isabel Lucas), daughter of Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), CEO of the Bromley Marks company and the blood kingpin, who became a vampire willingly to cure his cancer and has no interest in becoming human again.
He forces his daughter to become a vampire. She refuses to drink blood, devolves into a Subsider, and is burnt to death by sunlight. Martial law is imposed to control the Subsiders. Edward, Elvis, and Audrey ask Christopher to help spread the cure, but he calls the authorities. Frankie bites Elvis but turns human, proving that the sunlight cure is unnecessary.
Edward turns himself in to save Audrey. Bromley plans to continue hunting humans and selling their blood for exorbitant prices. Edward taunts Bromley into biting him and Bromley becomes human. He is killed by (literally) blood-thirsty Subsider soldiers. Frankie sacrifices himself to allow Edward and Audrey to escape. The soldiers who survive the feeding frenzy are now human. To hide this, Christopher shoots them and tries to kill Edward and Audrey, but Corman kills him. The survivors drive off into the sunrise. Humans will be saved.
The film was written and directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, filmed in Australia and the US. It received mixed critical reception. The creatures were created by Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop. Willem Dafoe played a vampire in several films, including Shadow of the Vampire (2000) in which he played Max Schrek. Daybreakers was released on Elvis Presley’s birthday, 8 January. It began with an intriguing dark premise, an unusual dystopian world, and a change-up on the vampire story, but as so many movies do, it ended with scenes of fighting and bloodshed.