Disclaimer: I was sent a free copy of The Things That Keep Us Up At Night in exchange for an impartial review. Other than receiving the free book, I am not being compensated for this review and all opinions listed below are 100% honest.
Released by Vargas Publishing, The Things That Keeps Us Up At Night by Victoria Sutton (April 2014) explores a genre I’m not very well-versed in: the biothriller. I have often purposefully avoided this genre because, as the title of Sutton’s book would imply, these concepts of fast-spreading disease and bioterror do, in fact, keep me up at night. This is one of the only types of films that truly scares me, because the plots often seem plausible.
Sutton is highly qualified to write about this subgenre of film, with her many years of experience with the biohorrors of the real world. Sutton serves as the Director for the Center for Biodefense, Law & Public Policy in Lubbock, Texas. She is a professor at Texas Tech University’s School of Law. She has previously worked in the White House Science Office, under George H. W. Bush’s administration. She’s an expert on the subject of infectious disease, pandemics, bioterrorism and how they relate to our country’s laws as well as our own lives.
Sutton’s inspiration for this book comes from her experience as a professor. In addition to discussing disease through the lenses of psychology, law, religion and science, Sutton takes a look at how horror films have represented these fears. Sutton writes in the book’s preface: “In 2002, I began teaching the first course in law and bioterrorism at Texas Tech University School of Law. I used movies in the biohorror and biothriller subgenre for assignments to study hypothetical scenarios that would require legal analysis.” Ten years after first using this type of exercise in the classroom, Sutton decided to write a book sharing these analyses of biohorror films.
Forty-eight films are explored in the book, both American and international. (Nations represented by these films include the United States, Japan, Sweden, Canada, France, Denmark and Brazil.)
At the bottom of this post, you will find a list of all of the films included for analysis in The Things That Keep Us Up At Night. For more information about the book and its author, you can visit the book’s official website at reelbiohorror.com.
The Things That Keep Us Up at Night opens with a chapter explaining just what the biohorror subgenre is, followed by ten chapters on topics ranging from the psychology of fear to government restraints on individual liberties in disaster scenarios.
These chapters include some charts and graphics relevant to the film genre and to the topic of disease on the whole. For instance, one chart shows predictions for how the genre will grow in terms of number of biohorror films produced. Another shows the spread of the bubonic plague.
Each of the first ten chapters delves into a specific aspect of the subgenre, while the film analyses are included in a lengthy twelfth chapter (pages 45 – 348). Ratings for legal and scientific accuracy are given for each included film, which is a great feature! Not many films earn 5-star ratings in either of these categories, but there are a handful that are rated high in accuracy, including La Peste and Outbreak.
This book is a really interesting read. I did find a couple of typos in the text, but nothing too bothersome, and the book is generally quite engrossing. Victoria Sutton does a great job of explaining scientific and legal concepts thoroughly without getting too try or technical and losing the reader’s interest. Each of the legal and scientific concepts in the book is tied back to film, so regardless of your knowledge of law or of biological threats, the content is relevant to anyone interested in big-screen thrillers.
List of films analyzed (chronological order, as is used in ch. 12 of the book, where the analyses are found):
Nosferatu, Panic in the Streets, The Seventh Seal, Hud, The Last Man on Earth, The Satan Bug, Andromeda Strain, The Omega Man, Virus, Warning Sign, Epidemic, Quarantine, La Peste, Black Death (1992), Formula for Death, Outbreak, 12 Monkeys, Pandora’s Clock, Contagious, Contaminated Man, Venomous, Killer Buzz, Global Effect, Contagion (2002), 28 Days Later, Day of the Dead: Contagium, Waterborne, The Constant Gardner, The Hades Factor, Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America, Bacterium, I Am Legend, 28 Weeks Later, Pandemic, Flight of the Living Dead, Bats: A Human Harvest, Quarantine, Pandemic, Pandemic (Japanese version), Carriers, Black Death (2010), Contagion (2011), Quarantine 2, Season of the Witch, The Gerber Syndrome, Azaan, Patient Zero, World War Z