31 Days Of Horror 2016: Guest Writer Monica S. Kuebler on The Spierig Brothers’ Daybreakers (2009)
Do you have a favourite monster? If you do, you probably understand the lengths one will go to satiate that monster-mania.
Me? I love vampires. I don’t know what vampire book or film I saw first. I no longer remember when this lifelong love affair began. When I look back now, it seems like it was always there. I’m not selective in my vampire love either, though I do worship at the altar of a good story; I like the feral inhuman ones, the haughty aristocrats, the grotesque parasites, the misunderstood monsters, and even some of the teenage incarnations. Perhaps I love vampires for their versatility. They are a monster with a thousand stories.
In recent years, I’ve found myself fascinated with films and books that flip the “few bloodsuckers feeding off humanity (and must be destroyed)” narrative upside down and, instead, offer up detailed, well-thought-out vampire societies. One movie of that ilk that I keep coming back to is 2009’s Daybreakers, directed by The Spierig Brothers.
The film posits a world, not unlike our own, where vampires have become the dominant species. They are the majority now, living in their fancy apartments, commuting to their tedious nightjobs and acting for all the world like they did before they turned – except for the blood hunger, lack of reflection and sensitivity to the sun, of course. They have also – again, not unlike us and our devastation of the environment – created a situation that stands to be their own demise: they are running out of humans and human blood, and thus far any attempts to create a synthetic version have been, um, explosively fatal.
We follow vampire and hematologist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) who’s been working unsuccessfully on the artificial blood problem. Things are getting increasingly desperate, as without ample nourishment the vampires devolve into “Subsiders” – feral, leathery winged beasts with mottled skin and protruding bones. Then one day, he stumbles across a group of surviving humans, and everything changes: Edward learns that there may be another way to save society, cure vampirism entirely. Though it quickly becomes clear that not all vampires want that.
Daybreakers’ vampire society is wonderfully realized, from the undead newscasters to the coffee kiosks selling the black stuff with blood instead of cream to the “Capture Humans” propaganda and the factory-like body farm (and that’s all in the first ten minutes!). We have characters that embrace their immortality and others who see it as curse, such as the youngsters now forever trapped in children’s bodies. Where most vampire movies see humans tempted by lures of a vampiric existence, here vampires are more likely idealize their former humanity.
Apart from this superb world-building and the existential musings that come with it, Daybreakers is also a fun ride, delivering car chases (and wrecks) and some incredibly violent set pieces, particularly in its finale, which sees dozens of bodies bitten and torn apart.
Brainy, fresh and savage – and all about vampires – what’s not to like?
Maybe that’s why I re-watch Daybreakers about once a year. Because this incredible world (and the immersive set design and cinematography that brings it to life) begs for more than just the story told in this film. I want to know about the years preceding these events and I want to know about what happens afterward. That too is the hallmark of a good story, it turns you into a kind of vampire yourself, always hungering for more.
Monica S. Kuebler is the managing editor of Rue Morgue magazine and LibraryOfTheDead.com, author of the Blood Magic Saga (a young adult online vampire serial that first hit the weird wide web with Bleeder back in 2012) and Rue Morgue Library Vol. 3: Weird Stats & Morbid Facts. She’s also the co-author of the 2002 poetry collection Some Words Spoken (with Cynthia Gould). For fifteen years, she ran and curated releases for acclaimed micro-press Burning Effigy, which closed its doors in spring of 2014. For more about Monica, visit monicaskuebler.com. And to read Bleeder and the rest of the Blood Magic Saga, visit blood-magic.net or wattpad.com/deathofcool.