By C. Michael Forsyth
The strangest nightmare I ever had was an astonishingly vivid dream at age 13 in which vampires were taking over my native Manhattan. I woke up screaming and returned to sleep with difficulty. But here’s the weird part: when I awoke again, I was in the New Jersey woods and a trio of strangers were hovering over me. When I asked who they were, they reminded me that they were with “the Resistance.” In short order, we were heading across the George Washington Bridge, armed with crossbows, on a “reconnaissance mission” into New York. After some misadventures, I woke again in my bed, to the pleasing face of my mother (without fangs).
Since that time, I’ve always awakened in the non-vampire reality, knock wood. But I was intrigued by the notion of writing a novel in which vampires had taken over the world. I was a bit disappointed to soon learn that I’d been beaten to the punch by the original “Last Man on Earth.” Yet I remain fascinated by the idea.
“Daybreakers,” now on DVD, adopts that very premise. Set in the year 2019, it depicts a future in which vampires have finally achieved world domination. The bad news, for them, is they’ve succeeded only too well – there are almost no humans left to prey upon and the blood supply is rapidly running out. The movie has only a few scary moments. Most memorably, the vampire protagonist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) and his brother are set upon by one of the “subsiders,” C.H.U.D.-like wretches that have transformed into bat-winged, pointy-eared monstrosities as a result of blood-starvation.
But the film works best as social satire, presenting a cleverly thought-out dystopia, a kind of 1984 or Brave New World with vampires. Everything follows logically from the idea that our society is the essentially the same, but populated by vampires. There are nifty inventions such as shuttered, high-tech cars that employ cameras and computer technology to allow vamps to drive in daylight. A bloodsucking pharmaceutical giant is now literally a bloodsucking pharmaceutical giant, warehousing unconscious humans in vast bays, hooked up to tubes that drain their blood for sale.
The reliable Sam Neill, a terrific movie hero in “Jurassic Park,” is equally effective as the loathsome head honcho of the pharmaceutical company. Former child actor Hawke, who seems gaunter and more intense with every role, is compelling as a reluctant vampire who pines for his lost humanity. A drug-company hematologist, he is racing to develop synthetic blood before the entire population is converted to subsiders, then wiped out by famine.
Yes, there is a Resistance. And yes, as with just about every such saga from “Red Dawn” to “V,” there’s an element of World-War II nostalgia to it. But there’s a twist. It turns out that one of the leaders, played by William Dafoe, has a remarkable trait that may offer a solution to the vampire dilemma before society collapses.
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