I have a thing for vampires. I won’t tell you how much of a thing, since I’m pretty sure I began last year’s 31 Days of Horror Biff Bam Pop! guest post by doing just that. But let’s just say, Andy invited me back and I picked another vampire movie. If he calls on me next year, the outcome will likely be the same. It’s a big thing.
The reason vampires are my number one monster largely comes down to versatility. They can be used to tell horror stories, fantasy stories, sci-fi stories, romance stories – you name it, really. They can be anything from grotesque and monstrous to almost mistakably, sympathetically human, and all points in between. And their narratives can be just as grand or just as slight as the opposite ends of that spectrum allow for. With vampires, the possibilities feel endless. It’s hard to be bored with a bloodsucker in the room.
And it’s damn hard to pick favourites.
So I’m not going to.
Instead, I’m going to tell you about a little vampire movie you may have missed, but one that should be on your radar, particularly if you’ve fallen under the thrall of the slow-burn soul searching and quiet suffering of films such as Byzantium (2012) and Only Lovers Left Alive (2013).
Like those movies, 2011’s Midnight Son won’t tell you the whole story – it begins and ends somewhere in the middle. While not as lush or stylish as either of the previously mentioned films, its realness and desperation function in a similar manner. Want a look at vampirism without the lens of escapist fantasy? Want a look at what it would be like in the real world, in our modern world? Look here. It’s messy, problematic, and dangerous.
Midnight Son is the sole feature from writer/director Scott Leberecht (better known for his visual effects work on blockbusters such as Spawn, Sleepy Hollow and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters), who commands a cast of largely unknown actors. It’s a film that never makes its main character Jacob’s vampirism implicit (in fact, I’m not sure the word is ever spoken aloud, though it is seen on a poster). When the movie begins, he is already “sick.” We do not know why or how he contracted the contagion or how long he’s suffered, only that it’s worsening.
As the film unspools, it serves as a bleak character study about becoming something other, something that must discard human morals in order to survive and thrive. None of the journey is glamorous. Jacob’s lost, confused and usually not the first one to make a move, especially after he attempts to see a doctor about his condition (sensitivity to light, insatiable hunger, etc.), only to have the physician tell him he’s malnourished. He sets out on his own, researching “anemia” to try to get to the bottom of what’s wrong with him. Yet the hunger is constant until he gets a taste of some blood from the wrapper of a steak.
At this point, Jacob starts considering the V word, going so far as to press a crucifix against his forehead, to no effect.
However, when his newfound junkie friend, Mary, gets a nosebleed during sex, he tastes her blood and, well, there’s just no going back to the animal stuff. Midnight Son goes on to mine the vampire-as-junkie trope incredibly well, hitting all the major touchstones. Over the latter half of the film Jacob begins fantasizing about attacking people; attempts to break into a hospital biohazard disposal bin; and eventually even pays a “dealer” to hook him up (though his need for blood continues to clash with his still-strong human moral center in interesting and plot-complicating ways).
When Mary (Maya Parish) begins to see the inhuman side to her lover (including some very noticeable and inexplicable changes to his eyes) she doesn’t flee, offering instead to take him to see a doctor. This too is refreshing: a vampire movie in which everyone – at least until the pair of bloody confrontations that mark the film’s climax – is hesitant to embrace or acknowledge the (paranormal) monster in the room.
But Jacob is a monster and he soon attacks a guy at work. This is followed by his first kill, though that’s an accident. When his victim’s brother comes seeking revenge, Mary takes a bullet and Jacob learns two things in relatively quick succession: he can heal wounds, but the people he drinks from become infected with his “illness.” Yup, vampire just became vampires. In the midst of all this, in a fit of guilt, he attempts to confess these goings-on to the cops, who don’t believe him for one hot second (scrawny guy, no evidence, claims he can’t remember what he did – yeah, right!).
Ultimately, Midnight Son wraps rather quickly once the dying starts, without dispensing any great revelations. Though are they necessary, when it’s such a natural exit point for the narrative? The finale, after all, marks the end of this part of Jacob’s journey, as he finally finds the thing he can “drop the morals” for.
As a vampire film, Midnight Son boasts the requisite red stuff and some quality facial burn makeup, but it’s ultimately more about the meditation (and the physical/emotional transition) than the graphic set pieces. Many of us have dreamed of what it might be like to walk as a vampire in our world, but seldom do we stop to think of the consequences of biting, the scarcity of blood, the preponderance of daylight, or any of the other things that would make that life a difficult, impoverished and antisocial one. Suddenly, the proposition of undeath feels a lot less enticing.
Monica S. Kuebler is a contributing editor at Rue Morgue magazine, author of Rue Morgue Library #3: Weird Stats and Morbid Facts, co-producer of the Great Lakes Horror Company podcast, and founder of http://www.LibraryoftheDamned.com. She also writes monster stories, and has spent the last half decade serializing her young adult vampire series, which kicked off in 2012 with Bleeder (Blood Magic, Book 1), at http://www.blood-magic.net. For more about Monica, visit http://www.monicaskuebler.com.