FEARNET Movie Review - Only Lovers Left Alive


While horror fans frequently bemoan the painfully toothless state of modern vampire cinema (aka Twilight, Vampire Academy), the sub-genre's popularity has allowed some very good filmmakers to acquire funding for movies that deal with the bloodsuckers. Neil Jordan's Byzantium and Zoe Cassavetes' Kiss of the Damned are great examples: what's profitable for the big studios can sometimes lead to good things for independent productions. Which brings us, quite neatly, to Jim Jarmusch's frankly excellent vampire story called Only Lovers Left Alive.

The formula of {Jim Jarmusch + vampires + Tilda Swinton + Tom Hiddleston} should be enough to entice any half-literate horror junkie, but as a film freak who has been a Jarmusch fan since the 1980s, it's exciting to note that Only Lovers Left Alive is the writer/director at the top of his game. (If you're not familiar with his work, I'd start with Stranger Than Paradise (1984), Down By Law (1986), and Dead Man (1995), and then just keep going.) Suffice to say that Mr. Jarmusch is a unique, confident, and rather eclectic filmmaker, and while he's dabbled in dark themes here and there (check out Ghost Dog!), this is his first film about vampires. And it's a lush, poignant, intelligent piece of horror poetry.

The story is simple: Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a very old (but very handsome) vampire who lives in seclusion. In Detroit. (The city almost become a member of the cast.) Eve (Tilda Swinton) is his longtime lover, only they seem to have spent an inordinately long time apart. She leaves her refuge in Tangier to reunite with the generally very glum Adam, an action that kicks off a ripple effect that may lead to the end of their long (very long) love affair. Toss in a few wrinkles from an unwelcome sister (Mia Wasikowska) and a sweet but clueless human (Anton Yelchin), and it soon becomes clear that the modern world is a very scary place for vampires.

John Hurt's small but important role as a very ancient vampire is so cool it deserves its own small, special paragraph. Good lord is John Hurt a great actor.

As is often the case with hands-on indie filmmakers who really know what they're doing, Jarmusch makes the most of every moment. For example, we get a rough idea of how old "Adam" and "Eve" actually are, but the actors have a great time teasing us with specific details. Further, Adam is an ethereally gifted musician, while Eve seems to have an innate connection to all things organic in nature. This material works resoundingly well as simple character development, but it also speaks to Jarmusch's skills as a screenwriter; virtually everything the characters say offers some interesting insight to the story.

Full of calm, quiet moments and occasionally quite darkly amusing when it wants to be, Only Lovers Left Alive could possibly be described as "Before Sunset with vampires." A simplistic comparison, probably, but an appropriate one, and more importantly, it's a very large compliment. We should always take note when a good filmmaker uses the horror genre to say something sad, sweet, or touching about humanity, and Only Lovers Left Alive does so in restrained yet vibrant fashion.