This article contains mild Day Shift spoilers.
Netflix’s latest dip into horror-adjacent entertainment, Day Shift, is the directorial debut of veteran stunt coordinator J.J. Perry, best known for his work on John Wick: Chapter 2 and F9: The Fast Saga, and it speeds to the same stylish finish as those high octane films. How could it not? The film is produced by Chad Stahelski, who has directed or co-directed every entry in the John Wick franchise, and never met a subtly suspenseful mystery he couldn’t turn into a full-throttle action-adventure extravaganza. Jamie Foxx, a diverse and accomplished performer in all conceivable formats of entertainment, plays Bud Jablonski, a working man’s vampire hunter. Sadly, Bud’s film is in such a rush to find targets for him that it misses the vampires altogether.
There are no real vampires in Day Shift. There are evil gentrifying predators consolidating the San Fernando Valley for a corner on an illicit black market, but they are not vampires in any discernible or alluring way. Except for one fleeting shot of a newly turned vampire sipping from a bag, we don’t see them drinking blood; they have no hypnotic abilities; and there’s not a bat in sight. They might as well be running a drug cartel or selling super-secret technology to international terrorists.
Vampires are, generally, mysterious, supernaturally gifted, and sexy as Hell is when all the demons are in town to play. Day Shift has none of this. The fearsome creatures of the night, which invade our nightmares with thoughts of eternal emptiness, are mere thugs in shiny pants suits, and their illicit under-the-counter substance is sunscreen.
The film’s super-sunblock shields vampires from harmful electromagnetic radiation for about 20 minutes, and would have made for an interesting turn in a story about normally nocturnal creatures. But the concept is forgotten, disappointingly, in a fraction of the time that the invention would have offered protection to the solar-sensitive sanguinarians. It is a mere plot device, like the supergun in the Eddie Murphy/Robert De Niro/William Shatner buddy cop movie, Showtime.
Day Shift is an action-comedy masquerading as a horror flick. The movie doesn’t need vampires; they are superfluous to the plot beyond giving an excuse for acrobatic combat. Their fangs look like they came from returned off-brand costumes, and they are rendered anonymous by the ballistic bombardment which could have been aimed at any assigned villain. The vampires can be killed by a gun blast through the heart or dismemberment by a silver garrote, but wouldn’t that work just as well on double agents, villainous snipers, or a random jaywalker run over by a garlic delivery truck?
Foxx doesn’t have much to work with to distinguish himself as a vampire hunter. He’s in it for the money but approaches the role like a regular plainclothes detective or rogue federal agent. He is burdened by the stereotypical character-building subplot, in this case a chase for a standard of living, and he harbors no curiosity for the undead. Bud’s only concern is coming up with $7,000 in a week. That’s the cost of keeping his daughter Paige (Zion Broadnax) in school with straight teeth. If not, his ex-wife Jocelyn (Meagan Good) will take the kid and move to Florida.
Bud never told his family about his secret profession. They just think he’s lousy at fixing pools. But Bud is no Blade, Marvel Comics’ premiere dhampir originated by Wesley Snipes onscreen, and with a reboot starring Mahershala Ali on the way. Bud’s only superpower is knowing the right tools for the job.
Neither Day Shift nor Foxx follows Bud Jablonski into the truly dark realm of his profession, and its cost in vampire lives. Union members get a better price for the fangs the hunters rip from dead vampires’ mouths. It is the only part of a vampire which does not regenerate, and ultimately is a death sentence for the immortal bloodsucker. These fangs are coveted, broken down by worth, and the bottom line is enormous. But the brotherhood of slayers are like poachers killing elephants for ivory. Fangs and tusks are an identity, unique and powerful, in mythology and life. Elephants never forget, vampires never die.
There is only one vampire to root for in Day Shift, and it’s not the accidentally turned union rep Seth played by Dave Franco. He is beside himself in agony at the sight of his fangs in a mirror, and lost in recrimination and duty when his reflection fades. Who wants that in a vampire? But the elder vampire Audrey (Karla Souza) understands the power of pointed canines, and incisively punctures the hunters’ self-serving charade. Sadly, the film has the subtlety of a Mission Impossible sequel, and allows no interior view into the only interesting villain on screen.
Uber vampire, and conceivable four-time-San Fernando Valley-real-estate-agent-of-the-month recipient, Audrey, is the only character with a trace of a vampire’s needed dark magnetism. She buries an adversary in the concrete foundation of a structure built in her honor with a promise to wake him up in 100 years to see what she’s made of the place. This is old school vampire behavior that’s wasted to provide a more worthy opponent for Bud.
Audrey also knows the real cost of fangs, and could have saved the glorified tooth fairy from the repo man if only she’d used her vampire gentrification powers for evil instead of no good. She could have bought Bud’s property, allowing the whole family to move to Florida with new teeth, tuition, and possibly identities.
Corruption and seduction, however, are never on the table in Day Shift. This is an abomination, as sex and sin are the core of the vampires’ allure. In The Hunger, Catherine Deneuve’s Miriam Blaylock infects Susan Sarandon’s environmentally sterile research gerontologist, Dr. Sarah Roberts, through pure animal magnetism. According to legend, Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed paid handmaidens to procure young Hungarian women for her rejuvenating baths of blood. The fictional Count Dracula bribed the peasants in the village surrounding his fearsome castle to ensure their undying fealty and obedience.
With a little imagination, the San Fernando Valley setting of the film could pass as a modern day Transylvania. Lost Boys certainly drew unwanted sunlight on the Santa Cruz beaches where the specter of Jim Morrison blessed eternal youth to those who knew death. But Day Shift never breaks on through to the other side. Its feet are firmly planted in opposition to a faceless foe. Bud would never share noodles with a vampire. At least we can’t say this with certainty about the film’s legendary vampire hunter Big John Elliott, played by Snoop Dogg as if he’s already partaken of prime plasma-infused edibles.
Without erotic allure and the promise of la petite mort, the vampire is reduced to any monster. Lost humanity and eternally free-floating temptations mean nothing when the creature is tamed into an easily identifiable grotesquery, a blip on a video game, easily brushed away like a roach. Vampire hunting used to be a solitary outing led by outsiders afraid the social order might know what they were up to. Day Shift’s unionized killers carry industrial-sized insecticide, which sums up the regard they show the vampires.
Netflix doesn’t know how to make light vampire movies. They can muddy the rivers with truly eerie vampire imaginings like the miniseries Midnight Mass, but the streamer errs on the side of family fair when it comes to urban parasites. There is no nuance allowed; the vampires might as well be zombies, even when they have dialogue. Vampires are presented as figures to be shot down in a video game, with no thought or feeling, and certainly no regard for the exalted position the unholy blood drinkers have held in horror for centuries.
Written by Tyler Tice and Shay Hatten (the latter of whom also worked on the script for Army of the Dead), Day Shift positions itself to give us a heavy-duty action film, employing an army of fight choreographers and stunt coordinators. But like most vampire hunter movies, Day Shift gives with the same fight scenes and comedic beats as a bounty-hunting procedural, trading a good cop/crazy cop buddy movie partnering for a bad cop/worse vampire pairing that could see them open a bar on Ventura Boulevard some day. Would a vampire do that? Not if the partner worked the Day Shift.
The most sinful exclusion Day Shift commits is the life force of the vampire world. For all the blood spilled in the film, barely a drop finds its way into the mouth of a vampire, and that blood is administered by a nurse, Heather (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). What is a vampire without a constant need for blood and the ability to walk about during the day? It’s as mundane as an armed security guard shooting himself in the foot while checking the safety.
It’s not like the creators aren’t drawn to the pull of the vampire vibe. The film references Twilight and Interview with the Vampire, showcases Cirque du Soleil contortionists as the embodiment of physical freedom and stylish eccentrics, and hints at a larger mythology left unexplained, and unexplored. Day Shift resists the allure of the vampire at its own peril, and would be wise to stare deeply into the abyss.
Day Shift is available to stream on Netflix now.