The Reluctant Vampire

Khalil Shams (Carlos Chahine): doctor, vampire, scuba diver.

Tribeca Film Festival, NYC, April 25-May 6, 2007

The Last Man (Atlal)
101 minutes
Directed and Written by Ghassan Salhab
Starring Carlos Chahine
From Lebanon/France

By Robert Rosen

As if Beirut, Lebanon, doesn’t have enough problems, now they’ve got vampires on the loose? That’s an intriguing premise for a movie. And The Last Man does get off to a promising start, stringing together a number of compelling images: a flamenco dancer, a Christ-like man sitting up in his bed, the world beneath the sea as seen by a scuba diver. But the film doesn’t deliver on its promise, and it takes about 45 minutes to realize that this is a movie that goes nowhere slow—real, real slow.

The plot: Corpses of young men and women are turning up with puncture wounds in their necks, drained of blood. The authorities suspect a garden-variety serial killer. A kindly family physician (and scuba diving enthusiast), Khalil Shams (Carlos Chahine), participates in the victims’ autopsies and begins to suspect that he himself may be the one responsible. This disturbs him; he’s a compassionate man of medicine, he thinks, not a supernatural killer. At first he seems to have no memory of the murders, but he discovers that he has developed a taste for blood. For the most part, the good doctor—an attractive, balding bachelor—wanders the streets of Beirut and haunts its nightclubs, giving people the creeps and wearing a cool pair of shades during the day because the sun hurts his eyes, though it does not turn him into a pile of dust. Except for one ambiguous scene (is the doctor having sex with a patient?), it’s only later in the film that we see him feasting on his victims. And at the end he meets a fellow vampire, a white-haired man in a white coat (the Man from Glad?). They do not speak.

So, yes, the bodies pile up, yet nothing really happens. There’s no suspense, no drama. Most of the time, like the doctor, you don’t know what’s going on. But the crux of the problem is that you don’t get to know the victims in any depth, or care about them. No real relationships between vampire and victims are established. There’s no cat-and-mouse game—think Dracula and his unsuspecting houseguests. Nothing is adequately explained. What do the recurring shots of a flamenco dancer mean? Why is the vampire a recreational scuba diver? What does that have to do with anything?

There are some artful, arresting images—a shot of a lighthouse against the sky, the underwater scenes—and you are left with a visceral sense of modern-day Beirut, a city once known as the Paris of the Mediterranean but now ravaged by over 30 years of intermittent war.

But it’s the pace of this movie that ultimately drives a stake through its heart. A good vampire yarn should be rousing, and this one is somnolent. For my money, it’s hard to beat the original Dracula (1931), and Carlos Chahine is no Bela Lugosi. Actually, he’s not even Tom Cruise.

The Last Man

Sun., April 29, 4:30 PM, AMC Village VII-02, 66 Third Avenue (at 11th Street)

Mon., April 30, 4:00 PM, Tribeca Cinemas-2, 54 Varick Street (Below Canal at Laight Street)

Wed., May 2, 4:30 PM, AMC Kips Bay-11, 570 Second Avenue (at 32nd Street)

Fri., May 4, 10:00 AM, AMC 34th Street-13, 312 W. 34th Street (bet 8/9 Avenues)

Sat., May 5, 7:30 PM, AMC 34th Street-13

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