Title: Only Lovers Left Alive
Release date: February 21, 2014
Warning: Contains spoilers!(but there is no signficant narrative arc so I wouldn’t worry too much!)
When you hear “Vampire Movie” uttered by someone, I’m sure like me your mind most likely jumps to the countless array of mediocre vampire films that are out there-sure there are one or two enjoyable vampire films such as the Blade films, but I can’t help but thinking that no matter how much I like some of them they tend to feel very one dimensional, with cookie cutter characters that seem to always fall flat and where the majority of the narrative usually revolves around a battle between vampires and humans, vampires and were wolves and/or some kind of overly simplistic ticking clock plot device throw to ‘add tension’.
Directed by Jim Jarmusch, the film is essentially a portrait of a vampire family. Similar to another film I also saw the same day; Inside Llewyn Davis, the characters in this film also do not overcome any significant adversaries or have any epiphanies, nor is there any kind of tangible enemy of the protagonists (other than making sure they get enough blood to drink). Rather than following an arc of any particular kind we see the vampire couple leaving their comfort zone after an unexpected event, and eventually achieving a catharsis of sorts as they home in on their prey to feed in the final shot-But the film works well in this slow paced, somewhat meandering way.
I saw Only Lovers Left Alive recently at it’s London premiere and was genuinely surprised at its innovative approach to a familiar genre and the way it chose narrative over action, taking the time to craft intriguing characters. The film is an eclectic blend of art house cinema and neo-noir with scenes set all at night. The way in which we are subtly told (at first) that they are vampires works very well for the film and sets a tangible sense of the world they inhabit and details such as the two track mixers and various musical instruments scattered in Adam’s apartment work well to enhance the depth of the world created by the film.
We are put in the shoes of a weary and reclusive, raven like rock star/vampire, Adam (Tom Hiddleston), who is surrounded by an aura of humorous but also sadness, weighed down by the burden of ‘zombie’ world and the reclusive lifestyle he has spun for himself . Humans are referred to by Adam as ‘Zombies’ (which to some extent is a humorously astute observation of a lot of people). Anton Yelchin plays the only human to befriend Adam..well as much as a zombie can befriend a vampire that is, before he meets a sticky end. – Anton acts as Adams conduit to the outside world and frequently takes requests from Adam, often to track down elusive and peculiar items such as a wooden bullet- made of a very specific type of wood.
We also see his wife Eve (Tilda Swinton) and a visiting, nonchalant, heady and hedonistic daughter, Ava, who has dropped in expectantly to drink up all the blood (Mia Wasikowska). OLLA is a neo-noir postmodern portrayal of how vampires would live if they settled in and led a relatively quiet life and relys on a solid narrative and pretty much almost entirely without violence, which many films seem to use as a crutch to stablalise a weak narrative.
Adam being a musician without a real identity however has it’s problems, he has curious and slightly stalker-ish fans that have found out where he lives. On top of this Adams vehement determination to stay anonymous is shattered when he hears one of his tracks being played without his knowledge, as he reluctantly accompanies his zombie friend with Eve and Ava to a club/bar in town (taking with him a hip flask of blood of course.) Adam lives in the rundown dystopian streets in Detroit, a fitting home for an undead denizen wanting to be left alone, away from the ‘zombies’.
The film manages to be humorous without stepping into cliche cheesiness such as- Spoiler Alert!
-the brilliant line when Ava has been drinking Ian’s blood and says how bad it tastes, Eve remarks “well of course it tastes horrible, he’s in the music industry!”
The cinematography and colour grade do wonders to reflect the characters they portray, with cinematic shots in the car in a night time scene that is reminiscent of Drive. The colours are bleak and desaturated but not to the point of blandness.
The euphoric drug like sequences when the characters drink blood is very well done and reminds me of some of the drug taking sequences from other films/TV series’s such as Breaking Bad’s scene where Jesse uses Heroin for the first time and appears to be floating. The strange mutually benefiting friendship between Adam and a doctor at a hospital sets a slightly sinister and chilling tone but the film still maintains a level of comedy and drama, showing the vampire characters in a more humanistic way than any other vampire film has done before.
The score for the film is superb, ranging a haunting slow orchestral soundtrack that also bristles with tension as melancholy, slow elongated and eery guitar notes resonate within some scenes, other opt for more upbeat tempos and each scene is well matched to it’s soundtrack such as when the film takes us to Tangia the soundtrack also changes accordingly and we are presented with some excellent foreign music from Y.A.S and Harissa. This variety in soundtrack is great compared to a lot of more generic vampire films that stick with a specific time period of music or the same genre of music through out.
The acting is top notch, with wry performances from stellar cast. Tom Hiddleston’s acting as a weathered vampire, weary of his monotonous life is acted out brilliantly and John Hurt has a notable performance as an older vampire who helps the other Eve find her precious blood, when she travels to Tangia. The main drama comes mostly from the bad blood scene and also when they must flee after Adams ‘friend’ is killed.
The script is immaculately well written, with perfect dialogue and just the right mix of horror, comedy (there is a lot of funny lines) and a subtle dash of ethereal drama. The script has a lot of references new and old from the 17th-century funeral music of William Lawes, to more modern and 80’s pop culture references. Personally I think that on paper this sounds more like a short film concept, but it works surprisingly well in a feature length format and has tackled the arena of festival films, head on and with great success, it’s already garnered critical acclaim at Cannes, running up a nomination for Palme d’Or, the most prestigious of awards at Cannes, which it narrowly missed out to with Blue is The Warmest Colour taking that one, but Only Lovers Left Alive did manage to grab the Special Prize of The Jury at Cannes. Not bad.
All in all, a film well worth watching if you appreciate something that is truly different, Only Lovers Left Alive is the film for you.
Only Lovers Left Alive is due for a UK release of 21st Febuary and the US will see the film having an April release.