There seems to be at last few additions to Vampire movies subgenre every year nowadays. There are big, loud, obnoxious blockbusters with vampire mythos thrown in there just to attract more audiences and there are small, contemplative movies that won't make big money and won't win any awards (horror genre and everything connected to it is notoriously overlooked when awards are handed out) but they have a chance of becoming cult classic in the future.
Decades ago it happened with Tony Scott's Hunger. It didn't get any accolades upon its release and now it's considered to be one of the most famous and atmospheric vampire movies out there. While Only Lovers Left Alive is not lacking flaws it has that one thing that distinguishes good vampire films from shameless, soulless cash grabs - sensuality.
The film follows two vampires - joyful, outgoing Eve (a wonderful Tilda Swinton) who lives in Tangiers and suicidal and gloomy Adam (perfectly cast Tom Hiddleston), who lives a sheltered life in Detroit. Eve meets with her friend Christopher Marlowe who helps her get blood and spends her nights appreciating books, nature and the world around her. Adam only goes out to freak the local doctor into giving him blood and then stays home, playing music.
These two are lovers - they are not currently living together but they got married centuries ago and they still keep in touch.When Eve calls Adam she senses something being wrong and she flies over. Her presence helps Adam, who is growing increasingly disenchanted with the world and the way that people (or as he calls us - zombies) are treating our planet and things and individuals that could improve it.
Adam shows Eve around his house, which he mostly designed so he wouldn't need to depend on anyone. He takes her for a drive and shows her the local attractions, while she tries to cheer him up and loves him so much she voluntarily wants to hear the stories he told her before just to make him happy. Their peaceful existence in Adam's house is disrupted by the arrival of Eve's sister - Ava (Mia Wasikowska).
Only Lovers Left Alive is one of those movies you feel and cherish rather than understand and ponder upon. It's a movie that focuses on details without ever giving us the whole picture. Everything in between is filled in with atmosphere, sensuality and ultimately - mystery. Its script is minimalistic and the characters painted without much subtlety, but then again maybe the perfect vampire movie should be experienced, not meticulously put together by the director and then deconstructed by the audience?
Take the character of Adam, for example. Mysterious, charismatic, handsome. A perfect vampire. But you start to analyze his character and it all doesn't make sense - he loves music and loves Eve yet he wants to die. He has a gift of immortally and he is wasting that and staying hidden. He is full of paradoxes - ones that were designed to make him more interesting, but because of the way they are shown and the lack of explanation for them, they are also a sign of a weak script. Adam is not a strongly and convincingly written character, but I'll give the movie benefit of a doubt and I'll assume it was by design.
Because by making those characters so strange and making their life so odd, the film, while lacking a strong story and probably boring many to tears, has this aura of mystery around it. We don't know much abut Eve and Adam. We are not given explanations for their separate lives or answers to questions, such as what did Ava do 80 years ago in Paris? What is up with the gloves? How did they meet? When exactly did they meet? And that makes the movie fascinating.
What adds to movie's charm is a wonderful love story between Adam and Eve. These two vampires have known each other for centuries and they never stopped loving each other. Hiddleston and Swinton have wonderful chemistry and because of their talent they sell something that was not easy to sell - that these two radically different people love being next to each other, are interested in each other's stories and opinions and are bonded by true love and respect.
They are both so convincing not even the ridiculousness of script - why did Eve leave Adam on different continent if she knows his tendencies? Why would Adam even consider dying when Eve exists? - passable. You feel the love they have for each other in such sweet moments - Eve being impressed with Adam's brilliance when she sees the contraption he built to power the house and Adam letting Eve's sister stay even though he hates her, but he knows how much Eve cares for her.
The film really revolves around these two and paints a very unique portrait of the vampire - they don't harm people, they evolved past certain things - fear, jealousy, worrying. Adam is held back by his suicidal thoughts but nothing holds back Eve - she takes time to appreciate nature, she is grateful for being alive. Eve is one of most fascinating and likable vampires I've ever seen on film and Tilda Swinton's understanding and quirky way of playing her is the best thing about the movie.
The film adds, like most vampire films do, something new to the mythos - when vampires drink blood they are experiencing a sudden high that lasts several seconds. Then there is the gloves thing - it looks like they cannot remove their gloves without the permission of the owner of the house. We are never given a reason why, but given Eve's ability to tell the object's age with touch, perhaps every vampire has some sort of ability via touch.
The supporting characters doesn't really leave much impression - the doctor played by Jeffrey Wright could have been played by anyone, Anton Yelchin's Ian is cute and provides some humour (though film has already a lot of it with Adam's one liners and Eve's childlike and sweet exclamations of joy at the surrounding wildlife). John Hurt is good as Marlowe, but he isn't given much to do. Wasikowska however gets to play a different character - I've never seen her as wild and fun as she is in this movie.
Sadly, once her character leaves the frame the film's pace drops to alarmingly low rate and there is not enough to keep you as interested as you were in the beginning - the couple travels together and they see Marlowe one last time, but during those moments I thought that Jarmusch trapped his own movie by making it so minimalistic. Right into the cage of missed opportunities.
Still, I cannot remember the last time I saw a vampire movie with such interesting portrayal of vampires, good performances and wonderful atmosphere. It's greatly aided by just terrific soundtrack and amazing score by Jozef van Wissem and SQURL. The cinematography is gorgeous and even the shots of lifeless Detroit at night have curious beauty in them.
While I'm sure many people will hate this film because of its pace, if you like vampire movies or the lead actors you should definitely see this one. It's been years since I saw Swinton this adorably joyful.
(Only Lovers Left Alive, dir. Jim Jarmusch, 2014, 123 min)