Vampires are by no means a recent creation and I think we can all agree that there are several lifetimes (or one unlife) worth of books, movies, and television series about these charismatic creatures of the darkness and one might start to feel like the genre is a bit overdone; after all the first vampire movie did come out in 1915! Therefore it's a wonderful breath of fresh air when someone comes along and does something different with the same old neckbiters.
Daybreakers, by the Spierig Brothers, came during the Great Vampire Movie Epidemic of 2009 but managed to set itself apart from the rest with an interesting and original premise: in 2019, apparently a decade after an outbreak that turned (willingly or not) most of the world’s population into vampires, the last vestiges of the human population are rapidly dying off and the vampires’ primary food supply is going with it.
Right from the start this movie does some wonderful things with world building, showing how the modern society we would recognise has adapted to the change and managed to return to an approximation of normal. People commute to work, do their day job, and then come home to sleep with the obvious difference that everything is now nocturnal and the urban environment reflects that change.
Cities are brightly lit with plenty of covered walkways and tunnels to get about during the day, homes are practically windowless, you get a delicious ¼ pint of blood with your evening coffee, and cars can go into “day mode” where the windows are obscured and driving is facilitated by cameras.
This movie also provides an interesting look into the psychology of the people affected by vampirism and how they chose (or didn’t) that (un)life. All of the above, when combined with subtle-yet-effective makeup and some rather lovely cinematography, makes for a film worth watching.
Unfortunately Daybreakers is let down by a somewhat lacklustre main plotline with a standard big action sequence ending, but I’m not here to talk about that. What I want to do is lay out the allegory created by the overarching events that launch the plot forward, and can which be taken as a serious reflection of our own situation. It's like Aesop's Fables, but with vampires.
As mentioned before, with most of the world turned into vampires the human blood supply is rapidly dwindling and our protagonist, Edward Dalton (played by Ethan Hawke), is part of a team of haematologists working for the totally-not-evil pharmaceutical corporation 'Bromley Marks' to try and synthesise a viable blood substitute because without blood vampires devolve into animalistic, violent monsters called “subsiders”. I think you can see why that would be a problem.
Here we have the allegory in full swing: just like what is happening to the vampires, the natural resources that we squishy, fragile humans use are being depleted at a harrowingly unsustainable rate. In fact, in 1972 a report was produced that used fancy computer modelling to show several different possible scenarios for world growth between 1900 and 2100 and every single one of them showed us going the way of these vampires sometime in the 21st century. Of course people were very quick to reject and refute these projections, because humans are stubborn bastards who like to believe everything will turn out fine, but all of the information that has been collected since is worryingly conformist with this predicted collapse.
Now I’m not saying that we’ll all turn into ravaging, violent creatures when the food runs out but that particular metaphor, along with the past few centuries certainly tells me some of us will.
In the movie we see a slow progression in the world as the food shortage becomes more and more severe. At first the percentage of blood in commuters’ coffee is reduced to smaller and smaller amounts, along with corresponding levels of discontent. Then a subsider comes through an open back door into Dalton's home and attacks him and his brother, and soon enough overall instances of the things themselves start to increase. Before you know it armed police are moving in to clear rabid hobos off the streets and break up violent confrontations between near-starving citizens (who at one point tear apart a coffee kiosk in a feeding frenzy).
When it comes to us mortal folk we see something similar. At first there’s a general simmering discontentment as certain foods are rationed, then isolated outbursts of violence by one or more particularly pissed-off individuals (represented in the film by the subsiders), and then we progress to full-blown balls-to-the-wall rioting (represented in the film by full-blown balls-to-the-wall rioting).
Eventually the vampires do find a suitable blood substitute that doesn’t explode the test subjects, and the plucky protagonists find a cure for vampirism, but not before everything has pretty much already gone to hell in a hand basket and a lot of people died. All of this could have been avoided by sustainable management of the food sources instead of draining them dry then having to hunt for fresh ones.
I believe we've all learned an important lesson here...