It has been just over a year since the Twilight saga dotted its I’s and crossed its T’s and came to a conclusion with Breaking Dawn – Part 2. I never took much interest in the franchise, having seen only the first instalment in 2008 and being merely satisfactorily whelmed. I will admit that that particular group of vampires were not really my thing, but I do have time for other blood sucking adventures such as Interview With The Vampire, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and The Lost Boys. Clearly unable to go too long without these immortal beings in the limelight, the cinematic world brings us Only Lovers Left Alive, a romantic drama starring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as a married couple who just happen to be centuries old and partial to the odd drop of red stuff.
Adam, played by Hiddleston, is a reclusive musician living in Detroit, one assumes because of its recent mass desertion and ghost town feel as well as its strong musical roots. Feeling suicidal and in possession of a specially crafted wooden bullet, he reaches out to wife Eve (yes, Adam and Eve) who inexplicably lives in Tangier and is soon on the next plane to America to be at her husband’s side. What follows is a ponderous and somewhat repetitive sequence of dancing to retro music, philosophical conversation and artistic tableaux of the pair draped over one another on numerous items of furniture. This rather slow paced reunion verges on becoming tedious, as the audience have to wait until near enough the half way point before Eve’s mischievous sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska) introduces herself and works to create a focused plot that stops the treading of water and pushes the film forward. Though covering well worn thematic ground, Only Lovers Left Alive incorporates and adds some interesting and intriguing modern aspects of the vampire mythology. Eve repeatedly bemoans the act of neck biting, claiming it to be cliché and old hack in the twenty first century and preferring instead to attain ‘food’ in vials via hospitals and generous friends, and all of the vampires within the narrative show an extremely contemporary concern about whether the blood they are ingesting is contaminated, a clear connotation of AIDs and other contagious diseases transitional by blood. Humans are referred to as ‘zombies’ which is an original touch, though slightly ironic given the rather lethargic nature of the two protagonists.
Though a test of one’s patience at times, there is certainly something seductive about the film, not in the Edward Cullen, shimmer skinned sort of way but in the cadence of the language and the major use of music throughout the narrative. At times the picture feels almost like a music film with vampires rather than a vampire film with music, and whilst the soundtrack is impressive, unfortunately the entire affair does become a little self indulgent in its desperation for ultimate ‘coolness’. The same feeling of reaching for quirkiness is repeated in attempts throughout the narrative to connect and align Adam and Eve to numerous real life historical figures across the ages. There are casual mentions of Adam’s encounters with Shelley, Byron and Mary Wollstonecraft and an absolutely bizarre supporting role played by John Hurt as a fellow vampire who professes to be an older version of playwright Christopher Marlowe. The film gets a little too caught up in these details of trying to tie in historical context and ultimately it comes across as a rather corny gimmick.
Joint leads Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are undoubtedly the film’s strongest asset, they seem almost born to play parts as strange as Adam and Eve. The chemistry between the two, even if their scripted actions together can at points seem somewhat contrived, is undeniably magnetic. With no more than six or seven speaking parts in the entire film, Hiddleston and Swinton take up almost one hundred percent of the screen time either together or in scenes apart, and both succeed in maintaining the intensity that their characters are introduced with at the beginning of the picture. In the hands of lesser actors, the quirky nature of the film could have quickly turned in to an all out vampire parody, but their ability to perform some, at times, heavily cringeworthy dialogue with enough integrity to keep the audience on their side is testament to their talent. Hiddleston in particular is extremely engaging both in personality and in looks, with shades of Brandon Lee in The Crow coming to mind, and Swinton’s pale, awkward aesthetic has never been so suited to a role as it is here.
Overall, Only Lovers Left Alive is a flawed but interesting watch that is held together by two accomplished and engaging central performances. It is to be applauded for its numerous original ideas with regards to the done to death theme of vampirism, but alongside this unique aspect the film flirts too dangerously with self indulgence. The word ‘hipster’, a word I hate, was one that kept springing to mind as the characters spent ten minutes discussing the merits of vintage electric guitars or slow motion dancing to yet another 1960s rhythm and blues song. It may turn out to be one of the most original films I see this year, but it certainly will not end up being one of my favourites.