French Louisiana, 1791: Louis is a destitude young man. Having lost his wife and unborn child a few months earlier, he is roaming the streets and taverns at night, hoping to somehow find death for himself. Instead, he meets Lestat, a vampire, who turns him.
The two Frenchmen’s different outlook towards “life” is a point of conflict which will lead to them going separate ways sooner or later, and Louis continues to travel in search for an answer to the question: what is the meaning of life if you are undead?
Interview with the Vampire is one of those “classics” that I feel I have somehow never really watched in one go. A quarter of a film here, a quarter of a film there… it was on TV very frequently at some point in the late 1990s. So I had seen all of it, but still only a very fragmented impression of the film.
Now I have seen the film as a whole for possibly the first time, and I am decidedly underwhelmed.
I have never understood how anyone can find Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt sexy – must have something to do with me being male and all. And what I can now say about both of these men is that period costume does not suit them, and that they look appallingly stupid when wearing their hair long. That is a problem when a film project relies so heavily on the viewer finding a connection with one of the protagonists (in this case with Louis).
Because apart from that, this film is pretty much empty. Louis’s decision to allow Lestat to turn him is never really explored. Louis begins to hate his vampire existence pretty much instantly (and very early in the film), and again there is no convincing character development that leads up to that “breakdown”. With the character of Claudia, there is some character development in the story, but it is not properly developed or paced, so we do not “feel” it. Equally, the points of conflict between the three is not developed in a convincing way.
Things do not get any better once the story shifts to Europe and a new character is introduced: Armand (played by Antonio Banderas). Armand is in the film for only a few minutes and there is no way any filmmaker could have presented a character properly in that time, let alone shown his motivations or his character development. Armand is the most apparent failure in terms of character (not the actor’s fault, the acting is good) – but Armand is only the most visible sign of a failure that extends throughout the whole film: hardly ever is it really understandable why people do what they do, and never is it properly communicated what their goals actually are.
That many things feel so rushed and underdeveloped is all the more surprising as this film runs for a bit over two hours, and there is not much of a story told, so I do not know what these two hours are actually used for. The film feels for the most part like a summary of Louis’s life, like we are for a whole two hours being told that there are a lot of things happening, without ever relly exploring any of these events. It is like someone filming someone else recounting Tolkien’s Silmarillion, without any of the events described actually being used to develop a story worth telling on screen.
This film, it seems, is less concerned with telling a story than with creating a specific atmosphere: a world-weary mood, a Southern Gothic tone, a fleeting vibe of old-world decadence and decay. There is no denying the fact that the film is quite successful in using its Gothic elements to build a unique atmosphere. But such an achievement would barely be enough in a genre indie, and it’s definitely not enough for a Hollywood blockbuster staring a number of young A-listers.
Not that the actors do a particularly great job here. Clearly they are as perplexed by these characters as I am. In fact, Christian Slater (not saddled with a period character) may be delivering the best performance of the whole bunch. Maybe the material is just not very good (I have never read any of Anne Rice’s novels), but I feel the director Neil Jordan is in part to blame for these shortcomings. Which is surprising, as his Byzantium (2012) is such a good film.
I would rate Interview with the Vampire roughly at 5.5 out of 10.