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Only Lovers Left Alive


Stars: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Jeffrey Wright, Slimane Dazi

Director: Jim Jarmusch

If this anaemic vampire fable had been the work of a 'routine' filmmaker, my guess is that, after receiving the regulation standard gushing praise from genre addicts, Only Lovers Left Alive would simply have headed for its true home – as a DVD release.

Fortunately for him, writer-director (i.e. auteur) Jim Jarmusch is a cineastes’ pet and so his take on the Undead has been screened at film festivals in Cannes and New York in 2013 and won the Special Prize of the Jury at Sitges prior to its cinema release in Britain.

So what do we get?

Basically an Undead romance between vampire/musician Tom Hiddleston and the love of his life, fellow blood-drinker Tilda Swinton, who leaves Tangiers to be with the guitar-loving Hiddleston in Darkest Detroit.

But he isn’t best pleased with life as a vampire and tells his zombie ‘servant’ Anton, “I need a bullet. A very special bullet…made of wood” for “a secret art project”. It appears he is considering doing away with himself which, presuming he’s read Jarmusch’s sketch posing as a feature film screenplay, seems quite a good idea…

Swinton’s usual lack of charm and pallid appearance makes her a perfect centuries-old blood-drinker who sprouts fangs after a good gulp of blood (O negative, if you’re wondering) but firmly remains Tilda Swinton rather than bringing her character Eve to credible screen life.

Hiddleston looks right, tall, dark, handsome and eminently upper-crust British (eat your heart out, Christopher Lee!) but, given the material he has to work with, it’s hard to argue with his apparent desire to quit immortality for a more comforting state of death.

A certain amount of drama is injected when Swinton’s errant sister Mia Wasikowska turns up to throw a dramatic spanner in the works – but Jarmusch's horror sketch never manages to blossom into a satisfactory feature film…

Centuries-old Christopher Marlowe turns up too, played as John Hurt, bearded, deeply depraved and far and away the best actor in the film: it’s hard to see why he bothered but he deserves praise nonetheless.

(One of Jarmusch’s increasingly irritating tropes is his constant name-dropping: Shelley, Byron and Mary Wollstonecraft are among the several getting name-checks to prove the intellectual worth of Only Lovers Left Alive).

What might have worked reasonably well as a short story in a multi-stranded horror-flick in the tradition of The House that Dripped Blood simply emerges as too long, too bloodless and too often bloody boring to boot.

It's certainly stylish and atmospherically filmed by Yorick Le Saux. Unfortunately, as any number of failed acting careers bear witness, style is not enough on its own. Content is far more valuable.

Alan Frank

UK/Germany/France/Cyprus/USA 2014. UK Distributor: Soda Pictures. Colour.
123 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 2, Swearing 2.

Review date: 17 Feb 2014