Carl Dreyer, Ingmar Bergman, Roman Polanski, Abel Ferarra, Chan-wook Park: many an auteur has chosen to sink their teeth into the vampire mythology over the years, meaning Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive was never going to be the reinvention some expected.
Which isn’t to say the 60-year-old hipster director doesn’t succeed in bending the sub-genre to his sensibility. The pulse here is thick and heavy, the dialogue arch, the delivery deadpan.
Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is an underground musician living in Detroit. His wife, Eve (Tilda Swinton), resides in Tangier. Married for several centuries, their love is strong enough to cross oceans and time.
But Adam is depressed by the increasingly stupid behaviour of humans, or “zombies” as he calls them.
Reaching out to Eve, she visits him in Detroit, the pair sleeping by day, hanging in his apartment at night, and wearing sunglasses more than clothes as they listen to Jarmusch’s eclectic record collection.
On vinyl, of course.
Then Eve’s younger sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), arrives, dragging the oldies to a club and generally getting under Adam’s immaculate skin with her youthful exuberance.
She soon drinks up her host’s blood supply (he scores the “good stuff” from a hospital; feeding on humans is positively uncouth) and foolishly instigates a chain of events that threatens Adam and Eve’s existence.
At a languorous two hours, Only Lovers Left Alive is at least 20 minutes too long, the torpidity of the first and final acts enough to test all but Jarmusch’s die-hard fans.
But when the movie hits its groove it’s an unalloyed delight, the decrepit locations, lugubrious lensing and fractionally off-note performances inducing a narcotic spell not unlike the slump of a vampire who’s had his or her fill.
The clean English accents of Hiddleston and Swinton enhance the peculiarity of it all – they jar with the American environ and pop-up supports from Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin and Jeffrey Wright – and the pair have palpable chemistry, be it draped naked on the bed or eating iced-blood lollies.
Best of all, though, is the arch humour, with a running gag seeing John Hurt play Kit Marlowe – not only a vampire, he wrote all of Shakespeare’s works – and Jarmusch’s script frequently entering comedy-of-manners territory.
When Ava blusters she’s been living in LA, Adam spits, “zombie central”. Jarmusch’s views on Hollywood and its cinema are abundantly clear.