Almost painfully cool and artistic Only Lovers Left Alive is full of shots that are lovingly created and often go on for far longer than you would expect from a modern film. However there is none of the sense of growing discomfort that you often get from a prolonged scene. Expect lots of odd angles, lingering close ups and ritualistic scenes.
There is nothing particularly original in the story, using well understood vampire memes and a simple plot. The characters are nothing special either but it is the beautifully created environments and the wonderfully realised, if not particularly interesting or likeable, characters coupled with some amazing music that keep your attention throughout the film. Perhaps uniquely for a vampire movie there is no gore, violence or action to speak of.
Adam is a musician and collector of old instruments, especially electric guitars and amplifiers and his home in Detroit is a beautiful ramshackle museum of music technology throughout the ages crossed with a mad inventor’s workshop. As you would expect given that one of the main characters is a super-cool immortal rock musician, there is a heavy emphasis on music throughout the film and the score, while eclectic always seems appropriate and hauntingly beautiful.
Eve by contrast is a more spiritual character perhaps due to being an unspecified number of years (or centuries) older. Eve loves books and art; her place in Tangier is light and airy and full of paintings, sculpture and books. I love the fact that when she packs for a long trip, the only thing she puts in her suitcases is books. Her presence is calm and hopeful providing a stabilising effect on Adam’s more melancholic character. She’s a bit of an annoying hippie sometimes and you can see why they spend a lot of time living apart but also get a genuine feeling that they are a perfect match for each other when they are together.
Ava is obviously the agent of change here setting up for the events of the final act. However, it is a shame that she doesn’t get to do much else. The more exuberant, brash and presumably much younger vampire is well played and endearing to a point but behaves far too much like a bratty teenager to be liked by the audience. Once she’s done her thing and instigated the required change in circumstances she disappears. It would have been nice for her to integrate into the group a little more before hand. Partly so we could get to see more of her interesting character but mostly so that her actions would have a bit more impact or surprise rather than just being a rather obvious inevitable consequence of her presence. She’s the opposite of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (Nightmare Girl perhaps?) and indeed all of the main characters in the film literally do dream of her.
John Hurt puts in an excellent performance as Christopher Marlowe who just happens to be a friend of the “family” and neighbour of Eve. Unfortunately he is used even less than the other supporting characters and really only exists for a couple of good lines and to introduce an unnecessary plot point for the final act. It is a shame to see so little of such an excellent actor in a part with great scope for him to play around but he is great in what little screen time he does get.
Both the actors and sets are always meticulously dressed. There has obviously been a huge attention to detail from props and costume departments. I feel like I could watch the film over and over again just to spot extra little details hidden in the jumble of electronics in Adam’s apartment or details in the art work at Eve’s place. Architecture also plays an important and dramatic role from the decaying but recent structures of downtown Detroit to the magnificent and much older buildings and labyrinthine alleys of Tangier.
Not a lot really happens just the interactions between a small group of vampires and an even smaller group of humans but it is still an enjoyable film that manages to use well worn vampire story staples while also avoiding some of the more obvious clichés.