By Mike Shawcross (@shawky1969)
Being a big fan of horror genre I’ve always considered the vampire sub genre as my favourite type of horror film. From the ageless story of Dracula, the oh-so-cool Lost Boys and the gritty dirty vampires from Near Dark or Stake Land, I’ll never grow tired of the blood sucking forces of evil. Unless they make them sparkle that is.
Hearing Jim Jarmusch was writing and directing a vampire film, starring Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton and John Hurt I had to say I was somewhat excited to say the least. But that was all I knew, I had seen nothing else, no trailer, no synopsis; and that for me is the best way to see a film.
Only Lovers Left Alive is a love story, a romance between vampires, spanning centuries. It’s unlike any vampire film I’ve seen before, and I’ve tried to come up with something remotely similar and failed; hopefully someone may know of one, I would be interested to know if one does exists. This isn’t a vampire falls for girl or boy and romance blossoms like most teen vampire films, here the vampires are in love, and with an intense passion that only 100’s of years could mature; this concept alone had me hooked.
Tom Hiddleston is Adam, a brooding vampire who’s will to remain alive is dying as fast as the human race. He is suicidal, resigned to composing funeral marches, he lives in solitude on the outskirts of Detroit. His only contact with anyone is with Ian (Anton Yelchin) who supplies his instruments and anything else Adam requests; and a local Doctor (Jeffrey Wright) who supplies his blood.
Adam isn’t alone though, there are more of his kind, Eve (Tilda Swinton), Marlow (John Hurt) and Ava (Mia Wasikowska) are the only vampires which fill this story. Eve and Marlowe are in Tangiers, supplied with their blood from a local Doctor, and it’s blood of a high quality according to Marlowe. Eve is Adams wife, and it’s their relationship which is the centre of the film. Like Adam they keep themselves to themselves and trust only a few people.
The final vampire is Ava, Eve’s sister in name rather than blood; she is a little more trouble than she’s worth and Adam only tolerates her for Eve’s sake. She is young, carefree, irresponsible and is living in L.A. ; she just doesn’t have the same control as the others; it’s the consequences of her actions which puts Adam and Eve in danger, as they leave Detroit for Tangiers; their problems go from bad to worse.
Jarmusch strips away the vampire action; if you are looking for kills and cool vampire deaths this isn’t the film for you. The focus is on the relationship between Adam and Eve; their eternal love they share for each other, his love of music, her love of reading and the world they live in; even while it is dying around them. Pure blood is rare, the majority of the human race is infected by the polluted water supply. Blood is bought like a drug; Jarmusch rather plays on this, as the vampires take their “hits” of blood they exhibit pleasure, a rush as the blood brings them to life; one of my favourite little touches.
Much of the vampire lore is intact, being invited into a house, the sun is deadly and blood sustains their life. Yet the script does make fun of some of these traditions, as Ava breaks some of these rules and mocks them. The script is superb, it’s sharp and witty with little anecdotes of people they’ve met through their long lives; the ultimate in name drops.
The world Jarmusch has created for these vampires is fantastic, it’s a visual treat from the derelict house filled with Adams instruments to Eve’s apartment stacked to the ceiling with books; you get the impression she has read them all a number of times. The detail is fantastic and it doesn’t stop at the set design the look of the vampires is stunning as well; their porcelain skin, their thick matted hair and their striking eyes; Adam and Eve are two of the coolest looking vampires I’ve seen in a long time. It really is a wonderful film to look at and listen too.
Overall it’s ultra cool, extremely stylish and really it’s the “Drive” of the vampire films. Hiddleston and Swinton are superb, they carry the film effortless; while the rest of the cast all deliver decent if quite short parts through the film, none of them seem out of place.
However I’ll warn you now, this is a slow burn, I mean a real slow burn. It is a film which will divide audiences; some will call it dull and it manages to achieve absolutely nothing. Yet some will enjoy the story, the detail, the dialogue and the cast; calling it a film for film lovers….. Personally I thought it was superb and I’m not saying that to be cool; I really am looking forward to seeing it again.