You might know from reading my review of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (if you haven’t, go! Now!) that I appreciate a good vampire movie, so, enthusiastic about said movie, I fast-tracked Only Lovers Left Alive written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, a movie-maker whose body of work I actually have very little experience of. I know the name, of course, and I know he’s made a lot of movies, but any previews I’ve seen have never interested me too much. I came to this movie because of the subject matter, expecting it to be arty and somewhat pretentious, and that’s exactly what I got.
That really simplifies things, both in the content and my feelings toward it, though. Starring Tom Hiddleston (High Rise), famous worldwide from playing the character Loki in the Marvel movies, and Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak, Tilda Swinton (The Chronicles Of Narnia series and who will also be in Marvel’s Dr. Strange in November 2016), Star Trek and Green Room’s Anton Yelchin, and Mia Wasikowska (also from Crimson Peak), it’s the story of a reclusive, suicidal musician and his wife who just happen to be centuries-old (and maybe more) vampires. I was preprogrammed to like this from the get go, and there was very little about it that disappointed me – though parts of it definitely did. Like A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, it checked off many of the boxes on my “good vampire movie” checklist; solitary creatures, damaged psyches, great intelligence, darkness. They’re all present here, bookended by some very 1970s Hammer Studios titles. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of either of the two leads here, but together, I found them mesmerizing. Hiddleston spends all of his screen time in full rockstar mode, even though he is so repulsed by the very notion of fame that he spends his life hunkered up in a decaying gothic-looking Victorian era house in the equally decaying city of Detroit. When we first meet Swinton, she’s living in Tangier for a reason that wasn’t immediately clear to me, and hangs out with the writer Christopher Marlowe (yeah, that Christopher Marlowe).
I won’t go on too much about the plot, because there isn’t much of one – suffice it to say that the midpoint turns the entire story on its head in a way that annoyed the hell out of me, because it involves some spectacular naivety on the part of the two lead characters. From this particular moment onwards, the movie becomes a little less interesting to me. Just a little, though, because there was so much about this movie I liked, a lot of little things written into the plot that added great depth to these characters, and their places in the vampire movie genre. Like The Girl in that really long titled vampire movie I just watched, Adam and Eve (ugh, yes I know, but there’s a good chance that isn’t actually their names) feel strongly defined here. They may not be much fun – in fact, I’d find them insufferable in real life – but they do feel incredibly interesting, especially Adam. He has such an expressed disdain for humanity, yet it masks a deeply penetrating sadness about our oft-wasted potential as a species and this is much of the source of his malaise. Eve comes off as a lot more optimistic about her place in this world, but like many of Swinton’s other roles, I found her a little cold.
Where the movie didn’t grab me was less in the meagre plot than it was in the multitude of historical name-dropping that goes on in the first half. I didn’t really need to hear how Adam hung out with the great Romantic poets, or that Hamlet could have been better with Adam as the inspiration. It felt really heavy handed and I grew tired of it quickly. I got it early, move on! Yet, even there, when the name of Nikolai Tesla is raised, it leads to a fascinating plot thread that draws out some really great, subtle character work. I was definitely disappointed in the direction the second half took, but that’s just personal preference. Tonally, the movie is consistent from start to finish, as it explores the allegorical theme of addiction throughout. Certainly, using vampirism as a metaphor for addiction isn’t what you’d call innovative storytelling, but there are worse ways to do it (Twilight!), and it was perfectly in context.
And the music! I absolutely loved the dark, heavy, guitar-driven soundtrack I feel it staying with me as I write this review, it’s perfectly fitting given the subject matter and how music is such a vital element in the movie. If you enjoy well-made vampire movies with some depth about them, this is a very good entry in the genre.
© Andrew Hope, 2016
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This review was originally published on 2/27/2016 at https://thatsnotcurrentblog.wordpress.com