Only Lovers Left Alive – review

This retro-chic haute-hippy vampire flick gets its energy from the sulphurous chemistry between Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston

I have warmed up – or maybe rather cooled down – to Jim Jarmusch's beautifully made and exquisitely designed vampire movie since seeing it at Cannes last year. At first, it looked studenty and self-congratulatory. But if it is an exercise in style … well, what style. With its retro-chic connoisseurship and analogue era rock, this is a brilliant haute-hippy homage: a movie that could almost have been conceived at the same time as Performance or Zabriskie Point.

As the undead lovers, Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston hang out together very elegantly, exchanging worldly badinage and wondering what's in the fridge, like Withnail and Withnail, or I and I. Hiddleston is Adam, a reclusive vampire rock star hiding out from his fans in Detroit and savouring the necrophiliac ruin-porn thereabouts. Swinton plays his paramour, Eve, with her habitual queenly hauteur: she is living in Tangiers for the time being, pondering her literary collection (worryingly, this includes Infinite Jest) and chatting with Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), who appears to have been frozen in vampiredom in old age. Adam has a postcard of the Corpus portrait of Marlowe digitally tweaked to look like Hurt, so all that stuff about Marlowe being murdered at 29 must be untrue. (For people who love the dark, incidentally, neither has any interest in the seventh art.)

They get back together in Detroit, but when Eve's lairy rock-chick sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) shows up too, things go badly wrong. There is inexpressible languour to everything. I have had my crises of faith in the past about exactly how interesting or insightful vampirism is as a metaphor – that was part of my initial scepticism – and I still don't think this is in the same league as Abel Ferrara's The Addiction. Yet the sulphurous chemistry between Hiddleston and Swinton makes their 20-year age-difference irrelevant.

The damned have never looked so beautiful.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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