American indie stalwart Jim Jarmusch provides his own take on the vampire film with Only Lovers Left Alive, a darkly humorous, melancholic movie that focuses on the centuries-old romance between two vampires, Adam and Eve (excellently played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton), as they struggle to survive in the 21st century.
Here the vampires are not demonic monsters but introverted outsiders, who with their straight long hair, mascara'd faces and British accents have the appearance of faded rock stars. Acting like addicts, blood for them is a drug that provides a wave of euphoria as well as sustenance. They still can only come out at night, but rather than gorge on humans they steal from hospitals, ferreting about under cover of darkness for supplies of plasma.
Adam is a misanthrope who spends his nights playing the various instruments sprawled around his cluttered ramshackle house. An antiquarian, he has a fondness for the various historical objets d'art he collects and actively shuns modernity. The only solace he finds from miserable modernity is Eve. Lovers throughout the centuries, the two would be soul mates - if only they had souls.
In typical Jarmusch fashion, this is a film that shuffles along at its own sedate, hypnotic pace, as we follow the two vampires wandering through derelict Detroit and ancient yet alive Tangier. Detroit in particular is stunningly captured at night-time by cinematographer Yorick Le Saux. The Motor City's car manufacturing plants once fuelled America's booming mid-20th century economy, but its recent bankruptcy was the latest incident in what appears a terminal decline. From driving down the empty streets to visiting a former concert hall turned car park, the melancholy that permeates Motown in the film could be seen as Jarmusch's take on the loss of America's greatness in the 21st century.
But this is still a movie full of dark humour, with great supporting turns from John Hurt as Christopher Marlowe (who we find is the true author of Shakespeare's works) and Mia Wasikowska as Eve's reckless younger sister Ava. The music is also incredible; a minimalist rock requiem crafted by Jarmusch and Dutch composer Jozef van Wissem where the guitar feedback buzzes to the vampire's bloodlust.
The film's greatest triumph is how it manages to avoid and subvert the clichés surroundings vampire folklore. The v-word is never mentioned, and in a playful twist, it is the humans who are derisively referred to by Adam and Eve as "the zombies". The two of them are cultural snobs, looking down upon humans as mindless beings who go about their days without a thought to the finer things in life.
It's a personal take on how Jarmusch himself must feel. A film-maker who has built his hipster reputation as an independent New York artist working outisde the mainstream, those like him who devote their time to the counter-culture will always feel isolated from the rest of the world. In Adam and Eve's tender relationship he has made his warmest film yet, a movie with the message that the price of genius doesn't have to be loneliness if you find a loving kindred spirit.
Only Lovers Left Alive is screening as part of the 2013 London Film Festival. The film will be released in UK cinemas on 21 February 2014.
London Film Festival Reviews