Wednesday, 1 May 2013


In 2010 the little-known vampire film, Daybreakers, hit screens across the globe... and swiftly vanished with barely a whimper.

The film starred Ethan Hawke (Training Day), Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man) and Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) but sadly failed to establish a firm footing at the box-office and closed with slightly over $50 million worldwide.

While the gross wasn't a disaster, it was very far from impressive for a film that could (and perhaps should) have been a big hit. It was actually a very stylish and enjoyable film, so why was it ignored by the legions of vampire movie fans out there?

Before we go any further, here's a brief synopsis:

The year is 2017, and a vampire plague has turned most of the planet's human population into bloodsucking ghouls. As the population of mortals fast begins to dwindle, a vampiric corporation sets out to capture and farm every remaining human while simultaneously researching a consumable blood substitute, headed by undead haematologist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke). His work is interrupted after stumbling onto a pocket of human survivors lead by Elvis (Willem Defoe), a former vampire, whose past reveals a cure that could reverse the tide and save the human race. 

Daybreakers deserved to succeed and the reasons it didn't are all evident in the movie poster (above), which acts as a stark reminder of the consequences of missing your target demographic.

The poster features the film's three main stars walking together down a long tunnel. This in itself is confusing because it fails to differentiate between hero and villain, which leads to assumption. Ethan Hawke is walking front-centre so it is safe to assume that he is the protagonist, but the other two are much harder to place. Willem Dafoe (on the left) is aiming a crossbow and dressed differently to the others and therefore, he is probably human. In contrast, Sam Neill (on the right) seems completely neutral, which is inaccurate given that he is the main antagonist.

My primary criticism of the character arrangement is fairly simple, why are they all walking together? This implies that they are working together, which in turn negates the entire plot. There should be a clear distinction between the character motives because a cinema-goer will not spend long studying the poster. If it isn't clear, why should they care?

There is a very slight hint that Ethan Hawke will align with Willem Dafoe, which is evident by the fact that his head is turned slightly to the left. Subsequently it suggests that Hawke has rebelled against Sam Neill, leaving the latter as the obvious choice for the villain. That being said, it is far too subtle to be effective and if it isn't easy to decipher, its inclusion is not justified.

The only indication that this is a vampire movie is evident on the floor-sign:

Clearly the studio has no confidence in the vampire concept because the sign's inclusion is once again far too subtle to be effective. Why exactly would the characters need to be reminded by a poorly positioned floor sign that 20% blood is still being served? I'm sure they must already be aware of this? In addition, the information is useless to cinema-goers who have no idea what it means.

The aesthetics of the image is completed by a night and day contrast, which subtly indicates that Willem Dafoe is good because he is adjacent to the daylight, Ethan Hawke is conflicted in the centre and Sam Neill is evil due to him being adjacent to the darkness. Notice the full moon, Neill's character could just as easily be a werewolf, which would be an absolutely reasonable assumption, given that there is very little to suggest otherwise. It's all very cliched and not obvious at a first (or even second) glance, which once again means that it is of very little use to the general marketing campaign.

Next up is the very prominent inclusion of the quote:

Fictional Reality + Machines + Zombies = Vampires?
No you don't.

How many people went to see Daybreakers expecting to see a film about a fictional reality with zombies, all being controlled by machines? Neither of the films mentioned in the quote have anything to do with vampires!

So why include it?

The vampires farming of human blood is very similar to the machine's human farming method in The Matrix, though taken out of context, it means nothing (see below):

Alternate movie poster depicting the blood farming process

And the vampire virus is (very very) loosely similar to the rage virus in 28 Days Later... but not really (see below):

Generic vampire
Surely "Take The Matrix and Blade and you've get Daybreakers" would have made more sense? 

Neither of these alternate posters were widely circulated, though in truth they are both far too bland and ambiguous to warrant any lasting interest from cinema-goers.

To conclude, the main theatrical poster for Daybreakers was stylish but ineffective. It failed to convey the basic plot and necessary information to its prospective audience, instead opting for a subtle approach. This resulted in question-marks being raised over a potentially inconsistent narrative, packed with cliches. Consequently, it was left with virtually no chance of finding any worthwhile success.

The inclusion of the misleading quote was perhaps the most ill-conceived aspect of the entire poster design. It promised audiences an entirely different film, and in doing so they immediately ran the risk of missing the target demographic almost entirely. The quote is very prominent and raised audience expectations to a level that would only result in disappointment, which is a shame given that the film is quite good.

It once again highlights the importance of a carefully constructed poster that conveys the necessary information to the target demographic in a clear and concise way. If the design seems muddled and inconsistent, or too many unnecessary questions are raised about the narrative, it is highly likely that audiences will ignore the film during its cinematic run.

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