Confined minor-key vampire tale by a witty indie film artist. Only Lovers Left Alive is undoubtedly the work of iconoclast Jim Jarmusch who doesn’t usually have complete visions realized but is a pro at chipping up little ditties and riffs on established genres. Notably, Jarmusch has made flicks on the prison break (“Down by Law”), the western (“Dead Man”), the existential hitman loner (“Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai”), all done with an offbeat divergence that have singular wit that subvert all the clichés. His vampire tale is a would-be realistic, melancholy and droll piece. And it’s also a little like being sealed away in a grungy bohemian sinkhole for two hours. I kind of liked it, and it grew on me, but it’s also the kind of like-it that comes with a chore that’s not so bad of a chore after all, but you’d rather of not having a chore to do in the first place.
The vampires are played by Tom Hiddleston as a depressed underground musician and Tilda Swinton as his bookish wife. They have lived hundreds and hundreds of years, long enough to marry three times. And long enough to understand that a couple married that long together sometimes need to live apart because cohabitating infinitely would get stale. He lives in Detroit, Michigan. She lives in Tangiers, Morocco. Something beckons however. She makes a number of connecting red eye flights to visit him.
The film finds the rhythm of life for these people who live in the pit of night, dulled by an eternal lifespan and inevitably limited to keeping a low profile. They take a number of late night drives in the foggy urban desolation of Detroit as an escapade. We listen to them talk and notice how they listen to each other with respect and concern. There are a number of good lines shared between two world-weary vampires. Droll again is the word. There are a couple of exciting moments cushioned in-between the quaintness. Suspense picks up particularly in the second half when Swinton’s spastic and uncontrollable sister played by Mia Wasikowska comes to visit, and she’s constantly bloodthirsty. Two mannered vampires disrupted by an obnoxious sister, and it’s amazing how much drama can be drawn from that.
There are human characters of compelling interest, such as Jeffrey Wright as a hospital doctor who dispenses vials of blood for cash and Anton Yelchin as a hangers-on eager personal assistant who loves his boss’ music. Like way cool music, man. He’s too baked to see how strange his boss is. I think these supporting characters are flip in a good way, agreeable to the offbeat naturalistic feeling of the movie that carouses with social outsiders. John Hurt is also in the movie, too, as a Tangiers vampire who is far bent in moroseness.
I’m kind of glad the movie exists but I wouldn’t tell anybody to go out of their way to watch it, so why should I tell you to do so? I imagine the movie is more effective if you’re in the right sedated, slouchy mood. Or you’re habitually melancholy. For those of you that demand something must happen in a movie to be worth their while, rest assured there is a body count in this movie. Not a big one, but a small one. But it’s the wit that’s most appetizing of all. Oh, and I can’t help it. Tangiers is an enthralling location and the music, while pared short, is hypnotic.
123 Minutes. Rated R.
CEREBRAL HORROR / VAMPIRE FLICK / FRIDAY AFTER DARK
Film Cousins: “The Hunger” (1983); “Interview with the Vampire” (1994); “Let the Right One In” (2008, Sweden); “Thirst” (2009, South Korea).