Director: Neil Jordan
Cast: Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas, Christian Slater, Stephen Rea, Thandie Newton
Plot: Louis (Pitt) sits down interviewer, Molloy (Slater) for the interview of the lifetime. His story? He is a century old vampire with a past filled with grief.
Even when being hopelessly romanticised in the Twilight novels or reduced to mildly creepy red shirts in From Dusk till Dawn, vampires are endlessly fascinating creatures. Doomed to wander life for eternity, forced to feast on human blood for survival and born with an unavoidable desire to give into evil, lurking in a soul, there is a clear reason that vampires, both figuratively and literally, will not die. They are just too interesting not to adapt one more time.
Yet perhaps it is Interview With The Vampire that remains the essential vampire film. Forgetting the generic monster movies, such as Dracula and Nosterafu, has any film dived so effortlessly into the depth of what makes a vampire? As the title suggests, this is a film about an age-old vampire, Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt – playing it as broody as you would expect from a Pitt hero), recounting his centuries of existence as an undead immortal. The film is almost devoid of any fancy plot device (there is no romance at the heart of the story, there is no race against time), and simply charts the life of Louis, from the moment he was bitten while drunkenly looking for a quick death (oh, the irony!), and his adapting to the vampire lifestyle. If anything, this is a story about self-discovery as Brad Pitt wanders from the States to Europe, looking for the origin of vampires. While his sire, the deliciously villainous Lestat, is more interested in having the time of his lif… er… death, Louis looks to the past. Arguably, he never truly finds out the answers to: what is a vampire?, but he does learn about the limits of his species. And this is where Interview With The Vampire becomes the quintessential vampire story. As Louis discovers the characteristics of a vampire, so do the audience. Brad Pitt refuses to drink from a human, leaving his character weak and clinging to life. The story watches his morals and sanity struggle against the tide of being a ‘good’ vampire. Yet good is such a relative word here, as he stands by passively as Lestat terrorises Orleans. There is a sense that he only once adopts an anti-hero vibe, in a closing act of bitter vengeance, and he is closer to the story’s witness, than a symbol of good. Truthfully, the story is only window dressing here. Few people pay too much attention to the moral dilemma that affronts Pitt. This is a film about the imagery. Vampires are hypnotically seductive here, played with a flamboyant persona. There is something purposefully camp about their portrayal in Interview With The Vampire: not only do the men look pretty, but there are scenes where you are sure that Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise are moments away from kissing. It’s not just homoerotic subtext bleeding through the movie, but a darkly sexual nature in general. There is something uncomfortably intimate about the killing of certain victims in this movie. Vampires have always been a romantic monster throughout literature, but Interview With The Vampire is the film you go to see some iconic vampire moments. Is there any moment in vampire fiction as dark as the Theatre of Vampires? It is the inevitability of the moment, the clear sexual pleasure the vampires get from their domineering power. Humans feature very little in this film other than being the playthings of vampires. Lestat toys with his victims in scenes that are a bizarre mix between uncomfortably violent and hilarious. Other moments are simply made gruesome through the laziness of the violence. Human characters die without a second though, Jordan’s direction breezing over important deaths, because in the grand schemes of things, to a vampire, they do not matter. We can see the enjoyment vampires get out of the helplessness of humans, yet it can be a tough watch. In many ways, this is high art horror. There are no jump scares or moments designed to spook you, but some of the Gothic imagery in this movie will stay with you for a long time.
It helps that the acting is superb throughout. You have to feel a little sorry for Brad Pitt, who may be the lead, but also the most forgettable character. His job is to tell this story, a job which he carries out with a sullen vampire face. There is only so far his brooding can take you, especially when every other actor is having the time of their lives. Kirsten Dunst takes on her first acting role here and in many ways, her sub-plot is the real reason Interview With The Vampire is as incredible as it is. Louis finds a young girl, crying over her parents’ dead bodies and in an impulsive moment of pity, turns her into a vampire. As she matures, yet stays in a child’s body, she becomes a force of nature, an aggressively violent vampire that wants to blossom into a beautiful woman yet cannot. Interview With The Vampire gorgeously portrays the negatives of becoming a vampire (and mocks humans that crave the curse), but perhaps it is Kirsten Dunst who truly hammers home the cons of being able to live forever. Her relationship with Louis is also interesting, because his love for her almost contradicts his kindness. While he hates killing humans, Dunst’s Claudia is the most violent killer of them all, sharing Lestat’s passion for murder, but surpassing him when it comes to malice. A lot of the time, she kills not out of a need for survival, but a whimsical desire to see something die. Yet Louis cherishes her and perhaps at times, facilitates her need to murder. Yet when she is not killing, we almost forget how evil her character is. She clings to Pitt, tapping into her adorable nature. You feel that she uses the same tactics of winning Louis over as she does her human victims, a cunning predator that uses her child body as a disguise to what she truly is. Even taking the unique vampire character out of the equation, it is a towering display of child acting, Dunst making her first film role, perhaps also her best. The rest of the cast are jogging to keep up, especially Pitt, but less so the others. Antonio Banderas is perhaps dialling it in as much as Brad Pitt, yet his lazily hypnotic vampire leader is a welcome addition to the plot in its late act. Perhaps it is the burning sensation that we do not truly know his motives, his evil acts stemming from something more than amusement. There is also strong support from Stephen Rea’s camp Parisien killer and Christian Slater’s framing device reporter. Like Pitt, Slater is given the shoddy job of being in the plot simply to tell the story, but unlike Pitt, Slater adds colour to a rote role. A lot of Slater’s performance you can imagine the actor himself bringing to the table, unable to be content as ‘man typing’.
Then there is Tom Cruise. In fairness, the actor is given the best character. Lestat, in Anne Rice’s original text, was everything you assumed an aristocratic vampire would be. He loves the idea of being a upper class vampire and believes himself to be a god among men. Feasting, where he can help it, only on the rich, Lestat treats killing as a sport, cruelty as a game. As far as vampire villains go, Lestat is the more fun version of Dracula. Yet the casting of Tom Cruise, when announced, went down as well as you would expect. The actor had only really done stoic male heroes before, in films like Top Gun and Cocktail, which while commercial successful, weren’t exactly strong CV entries when applying for a film like this. Fans of the book rebelled and writer of both the novel and the script, Anne Rice, was the most vocal of the people against the idea. The words used were “it’s almost impossible to imagine how it’s going to work!” However, Interview With The Vampire is one of those glorious moments where everyone ends up eating their words, none so more than Rice. Tom Cruise is phenomenal here, arguably one of his best film performances. He attacks the role with the hunger of an actor with a point to prove. Deliciously villainous, yet almost strangely endearing, he is easily the fan favourite of the movie, even with Kirsten Dunst’s strong character and back story. Every moment he is on-screen, the movie improves tenfold and when he is surprisingly written out of the film earlier than you would expect, there is a part of you that imagines the writers had to work twice as hard to make the movie land as smoothly as it did. An outstanding piece of acting!
Final Verdict: As any vampire film come close to topping Interview With The Vampire. Perhaps not, an iconic, visually-disturbing (in a good way), treat. Essential for fans of the Gothic.