Ten years ago, brothers Michael and Peter Spierig (Winchester) released a vampire movie called Daybreakers. While by no means a critical success, it was a film that I held near and dear to my young heart. My best friend and I saw it in theatres opening weekend. I gushed about it at school. I wanted everyone to see it. What I didn’t realize was how important this film would become to me later in life. It became more than just a fun vampire movie; Daybreakers reflected my own traumatic experiences and ultimately became a coping tool for me over ten years of growth, anger, and self-realization.
Daybreakers takes place in 2019, ten years after a vampiric plague has ravaged the world. Almost everyone on the planet has been turned into a vampire. Business is now conducted at night, tunnels and special walkways cover the city so people can walk around during the day, and the remaining human population is farmed for blood like cattle. Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke, Sinister) is a hematologist charged with finding a blood substitute that can sustain the human population. Essentially, the vampires are starving and they need a solution fast. Without blood, vampires are morphing into strange bat-humanoid creatures that stalk the shadows and feast on whatever living thing they can find.
But Edward soon finds a group of surviving humans and realizes that there is actually a cure for vampirism. Led by once-vampire, now-human Lionel “Elvis” Cormac (Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse) and human Audrey (Claudia Karvan, Love My Way), this small group band together to maintain whatever remains of the human population. He joins this fringe group to fight against big vampire pharma and find a way to save humanity.
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“Daybreakers reflected my own traumatic experiences and ultimately became a coping tool for me over ten years of growth, anger, and self-realization.“
Now, how exactly could this film help me cope with trauma? It’s all centered around Edward. He has no desire to drink human blood. He thinks it’s barbaric. In fact, he never wanted to be a vampire in the first place. However, his younger brother Frankie (Michael Dorman, Triangle), forced the transformation against his will. Frankie thought he was doing the right thing and ultimately, does it because he wants to, not because he cares about his brother. Edward’s consent and trust was violated by someone he loved in the name of selfishness. Now he must cope with such a violation and live every day as something he hates.
This experience closely reflects my own as a survivor of sexual assault. I was violated by someone I loved and trusted. I felt as if I was transformed into something else after that experience, something alien, something empty. I lived my life, going through the motions, seeing friends, going to work. But something felt wrong in the back of my mind, a nagging emptiness and sadness. I saw myself in Edward as he tries to be a normal person despite his own traumatic experience.
But there is another side to coping with trauma, which is represented in another character forcibly turned into a vampire. Alison (Isabel Lucas, The Loft) is the human daughter of Charles Bromley (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park), the vampire in charge of the pharmaceutical company where Edward works. Charles wants his daughter to join him in the world of vampirism; he wants his little girl back. So, he captures her and forcibly turns her into a creature she so despises. Like Edward, she is betrayed and is a victim of a family member’s selfishness. But, instead of learning to cope with such a transformation, Alison drinks her own blood, essentially committing vampire suicide.
She represents the self-destructive tendencies I felt in trying to cope with the maelstrom of emotions that came with PTSD. Just as Alison impulsively hurts herself and immediately gives up in the face of vampirism, I wanted to try and erase my own experiences. Alcohol felt like a welcome friend when it came to dulling my feelings. Overcommitting myself gave my brain something else, anything else to focus on. Stretching and numbing my brain felt like a quick and easy way to ignore my past. But, as seen in Alison, self-destruction is not effective or healthy.
While there is no cure for my PTSD as there is for Edward’s vampirism, there was hope to be found in him finding a group that supported him. In finding a group of humans that trust him and listen to him, rather than try to force vampire propaganda down his throat, Edward is able to finally relax, dedicate himself to a cause, and find a purpose. I have gotten better at talking through my feelings and being more open about my trauma rather than hiding it. Therapy has obviously been vital, as well. I had to move out of my high school friend group to recognize its toxicity and the blame forced on me by those I thought cared about me. My experience and a vampire’s may not seem comparable at first, but we both had to remove ourselves from toxic environments to truly look in and understand just how badly we were being treated.
“Horror is not necessarily cruel; it is deeply emotional and provides filmmakers, writers, actors, and viewers to explore the complexity of human emotions, whether those emotions are positive or negative.“
Daybreakers is a testament to the power of movies and storytelling as therapeutic. This is why I love horror movies so much. They are a way for me, and many others, to process our traumas through violent catharsis. It is not always pleasant, and may often be followed by tears, but ultimately there is a sense of comfort in feeling understood by a genre so often maligned for its violence and cruelty. Horror is not necessarily cruel; it is deeply emotional and provides filmmakers, writers, actors, and viewers to explore the complexity of human emotions, whether those emotions are positive or negative. No matter the critical reception or lukewarm audience opinions, Daybreakers is an important film to me and my personal growth as I navigate the world of trauma. What more can you ask for from a movie?