Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)

Vampires are finally given back their bite (excuse the pun) in this captivating, gorgeous, and utterly irresistible twist on the old tale from hipster director Jim Jarmusch, which pitches odd couple Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as centuries-old bloodsuckers Adam and Eve, who are struggling to keep their lifelong love alive, as well as themselves, in modern-day Detroit.

Though they were once feared and lusted after in equal measure, vampires have taken quite a beating in the post-Twilight years but if anyone is going to make them cool again, it’s these guys – hell, Hiddleston’s rock-god is so cool, sometimes he can’t even be bothered to stand up to strum his guitar.

The immediate problem with Only Lovers Left Alive is the two central characters being as cool and gorgeous as they are, as there is a distinct danger of him, and indeed Swinton, fading into the lush, gothic backgrounds (though she stands out more, with her ice-white hair, in the heaving climate of Tangier).

Thankfully a killer script, also by Jarmusch, which is chock full of knowing nods to vampire lore and modern history, keep things ticking along nicely while the central performances are given room to breathe beyond their limited, often pretentious, boundaries.

The premise is simple; after spending an unknown amount of time living apart, Eve goes to visit Adam in Detroit when he complains of loneliness. Everything is going great, blood is in good supply from the local hospital (these are nice vamps, after all), and they are mostly left alone in Adam’s dilapidated mansion on the outskirts of town, where only loyal fan Ian (played by the adorable Anthon Yelchin) visits on occasion.

However, just when things are going a bit too well, and the two seem in danger of lapsing into a coma caused by their own uncontrollable coolness, Eve’s troublesome sister Ava (played by the ubiquitous Mia Wasikowska, stealing every scene she’s in) turns up unannounced to cause havoc, risking the life together that they’ve spent hundreds of years building.

Stylistically, Only Lovers Left Alive is a very interesting film, particularly in its fleeting depictions of the consumption of blood. Shot in lucid, almost slow-motion bursts, fangs are revealed and eyes roll back into heads as though heroin has just been injected, giving the impression that blood may be a drug these characters can’t kick, as opposed to just a life-force. It’s an interesting twist on the typical bite-in-the-neck trope that has become so played out over the years, and it elevates the film from being just a love story, or indeed a character study.

Josef Van Wissem’s stunning, evocative score provides the perfect backdrop on which to hang each scene, humming away in the background, and introducing bursts of noise at certain, key moments, like when Ava turns up, or when a sudden dash must be made when things go wrong.

It’s a bit like Queen Of The Damned – which the film echoes in part because of the vampire/rock star angle – if only it had been scored by Thom Yorke instead of Jonathan Davis, and music plays just as big a role here, with Adam strumming just about every instrument in sight. The central performances are universally strong and believable, with Hiddleston’s charisma taking centre-stage as Swinton personifies the caring, kind life partner role that she very rarely gets to play, thanks to her unconventional looks.

At times, she does look a great deal older than Adam (especially as he resembles a bizarre mix of Jared Leto in the music video for The Kill and an angrier, more gothic Bowie), until John Hurt shows up as her mentor of sorts, injecting the story with more of a sense of history and tradition.

These feel like real characters, with long, interesting lives well lived and actual back-stories, that are perfectly juxtaposed against Ava’s foolhardy, almost bratty younger sister and Ian’s oblivious human. They’re the kind of people we yearn to know more about, but whose inner machinations will always remain a mystery, and such is the strength of this story.

Although it’s a slight case of style over substance, Only Lovers Left Alive is highly enjoyable throughout, and involving to the point that it doesn’t really matter what Swinton and Hiddleston are doing onscreen, as long as they’re there.

Utterly irresistible, in spite of its hipster leanings, this is a step in the right direction for the oft-derided creatures of the night, with a compelling, memorable closing shot that suggests it has much more bite beneath its gorgeous surface than is at first obvious.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

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