Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Vampires Are Cool Again

Only Lovers Left Alive is a brilliant trick on audiences. It's two hours examining the ennui of an aged bohemian couple, but it gets away with such a tired plot by making the couple in question of pair of vampires. Also, they're a joy to watch.

Tom Hiddleston plays Adam, a vampire rocker living as a recluse in a decaying Detroit suburb, fiddling with fifty-year-old recording equipment to craft space rock anthems that would make Godspeed You! Black Emperor jealous. Rather than go out and gorge on groupie blood, he sticks to a blood bank where he's guaranteed a drink free of disease and pollutants, something he and the other few vampires frequently lament as being the new normal among mortals.

And those infrequent shopping trips are the only time he leaves his old house. The rest of the time is spent brooding and plucking at guitars twice the age of his unsuspecting manservant. He's every romantic cliche about the tortured heroic vampire... except he's not tortured over his horrid and forsaken existence but over how said existence has been going on so long that he's just plain bored. 

Enter his wife, Eve, played by Tilda Swinton. A walking inversion of Adam in every way - lively where he is broody, joyful where he is morose, pastels where he is perpetually garbed in black. She takes it upon herself to shake Adam out of his funk and you get the impression she's done this before. Maybe several times. Though it takes more than dancing and blood popsicles to cheer Adam up.

Here's where the film enters a very slow point. Deliberately slow, as it follows Adam and Eve through an endless night in Detroit, chatting about everything and nothing while enjoying the sight of urban entropy. There's a lot to read into these bits, particulalry the stop off at the grand old opera house that's been transformed into a car park. Adam broods over this undead city he's settled in, contrasting with Eve's sunny optimism of the future - "When the southern states are burning, this city will live again." As if the polluted blood wasn't enough of an enviro message...

But just before people can get bored with all this meditating, their "sister" Ava shows up. A happy, irresponsible child who keeps breaking into Adam's stash, you know she's going to mess up the good thing they have going, necessitating the two flee back to Eve's home in Tangiers. Eve handles all the travel arrangements, Adam being too romantic to worry about the drudgery of logistics.

It's a brief, simple story carried through by fantastic performances and brilliant camera work. Tom Hiddleston, the poor bastard, is popularly known as Loki from the Marvel summer money suck but here shows that he was born to play cinema vampires. It makes you wish they'd hurry up and do another film adaptation of Dracula. Coppola's version was over twenty years ago, that's forever compared to their regularity in the Hammer Horror glory days.

Tilda Swinton, despite looking like his mother, easily overshadows Hiddleston for the time she's on screen. This isn't just because Swinton is on of the best things to come out of England since Ted Hughes, but as stated above her character is the real dominant force in the relationship. She handles their worldly travels, she pulls him out of the house to see the world again, she even decides for him whether or not Ava stays in his house. And Adam accepts all this, seemingly relieved to have someone taking care of such things so he can just focus on his art. Despite his dismissal of Byron as a "pompous ass" he sure does reflect all the aspects of the clubfooted poet.

All of this would just be another stage production if not for the cinematography. Detroit at night is sadly haunting, row after row of abandoned buildings and houses, a very post-apocalyptic world of darkness and decay. Adam's house has a cluttered and cloistered feel, his whole "life" spent in a sprawling studio cobbled together from the past half-century of recording equipment. Living in the past, inside and out.

This forms a stark contrast to the heat and fecundity of Tangiers. While Adam moons around a mausaleum, Eve confidently strides through the orange-lit alleys full of active Arabs and Berbers, still full of life. Travelling to this still breathing city finally invigorates Adam, making eternity interesting again.

And again, there's much to be read into that dichotomy, like how the Third World remains vibrant in a way that the First World can't, but that's just so much film school fappery. This is the best vampire flick since Let The Right One In and the best flick period you'll see all year.

Get your fang on some more with Fiend, in paperback or on the ereader of your choice!

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