A vampire horror movie with a difference, Abel Ferrara gives us The Addiction. An allegory for the evil within humanity seen through the prism of being a night walker, it’s an incredible, cerebral and stylish evocation of sin, redemption and darkness.
Kathleen Conklin( Lili Taylor) is a young university student in New York who is studying philosophy. She’s recently been examining the evil of the world and the roles people play in it. Little does she realise it will play a big part in her existence sooner than expected. One night after class, she is walking back to her apartment. A seductive woman who we learn in the credits is called Casanova( Annabella Sciorra) greets her and then violently pulls her into an alley. She then bites a terrified Kathleen’s neck and then as she’s walking off drops hints of something dark and sinister ahead for the student. After being treated for her wound, Kathleen starts to act strangely. She begins to develop an aversion to sunlight, grows increasingly aggressive and starts to crave human blood. She soon realises she is becoming a vampire and attempts to stop her bloodlust, but it proves difficult as her affliction grows more prevalent . She runs into experienced vampire Peina(Christopher Walken) who gives her a lecture on how he’s managed to stave off the hunger for as long as he can. But can his wise words persuade a rabid Kathleen to submit and seek redemption for the bloodshed she is causing?
Abel Ferrara crafts The Addiction as his own beast and refuses to compromise with expectations of what people necessarily want to see. The film is definitely a horror film but at its heart has a lot more to say. Horror and drama coalesce in this urban and existential study of dependency and the very concept of evil, mostly driven home through the many instances of philosophy being discussed or heard throughout. Ferrara is clearly a maverick film maker who takes risks and plays by his own set of rules. In my book, it’s refreshing to see a director really bring their vision alive no matter how strange or startling the content. I mean, using black and white in a contemporary setting plus a hip hop soundtrack doesn’t sound like something you’d think of for a movie about vampires. But in my view, it works in modernising these creatures and placing them in a real world setting with real world topics being reckoned with. The Addiction argues that humans are in essence drawn to evil and resistance can be used, but can be futile if you’re not strong enough. This is glimpsed by Casanova’s speech to Kathleen about telling her to go away instead of biting her. Kathleen later uses this on her victims as a sort of reverse psychology and power base. Ferrara and his frequent screenwriter Nicholas St. John are more interested in reinterpreting the vampire lore we think we know( and less in constant gross out horror) and their efforts add depth and oddness by equating vampirism with drug addiction and even saying that evil sin is something we are all capable of. This is showcased in a number of scenes in which Kathleen’s lecture looks at the atrocities like the Holocaust and the My Lai Massacre. It’s startling for sure but it really encapsulates the notion of brutality and evil being all around us and having been there since the start of time.
The horror aspects are extremely well handled, being brutal and startling yet with a purpose to back it up rather than just for gratuitous violence and blood letting. It’s impressive how much Ferrara manages to pack into a film that’s little over 80 minutes, but he does it. It must be stated that The Addiction isn’t going to be a film for everyone. Some of it is undoubtedly confounding and many will see the allusions to philosophy as pretentious which isnt entirely wrong in some parts. But The Addiction weaves a certain spell on you of you let it and boy does it hey The black and white is an inspired stylistic choice from Ferrara and aided by the hypnotic cinematography of Ken Kelsch, New York becomes a dark, eerie but entrancing place of shadows and brutality. It’s almost another character in the film that’s how much of an aura we get here with a debt to noir being evident. The aforementioned hip hop/ rap music featured further establishes the urban atmosphere and impaired with a slithering score that rises and falls like the eponymous affliction. Both play a big part in keeping us watching and being engrossed in this horror drama with a lot more on its mind that just gruesomeness.
Lili Taylor, of petite stature and interesting eyes, is an unusual but spellbinding presence as the student turned bloodsucker. She plays Kathleen as someone who is idealistic and curious, but after her bite, turns quite cold, aggressive and dangerous. In between craving blood and completing her thesis, Taylor explorers the characters outlook on life through philosophy and how it morphs once she sees the world in a transformative way. Her frustration and desperation, coupled with an unsettling stare and rabid hunger are all accounted for and played wonderfully as Kathleen has to come to turns with what she has been changed into. Taylor has always been a reliable performer and she doesn’t disappoint here, in what is one of her best roles that requires her to really dig into the darkness and craving of someone hooked on the taste of blood. It’s quite a subtle performance in parts( Kathleen and Taylor herself look very innocent to the untrained eye), but that only enhances the dichotomy of her even more and adds layers to the later brutal acts she commits with full on force in order to feed her thirst for blood. Simply stated, Lili Taylor is the anchor of The Addiction and haunting in the best sense of the world as the victim turned bloodthirsty predator. Christopher Walken appears in what is essentially an extended cameo, but it’s well worth it and he makes the most of the time he’s on screen. His strange, sagacious demeanour, coupled with lashings of sarcasm at the state of his existence. He’s a vampire cutting down after all so he’s philosophical like a guru and sardonic in equal measure. It’s all in a way only the talented Walken could pull off. Annabella Sciorra, all slicked hair and dangerous appeal, wonderfully acts as the instigator of Kathleen’s transformation and though seen on in a handful of scenes near the beginning and end of the film, makes her mark felt. Watch out for early roles from Edie Falco and Kathryn Erbe as unsuspecting victims.
A very different take on vampires by a director with his own unique way of telling a story, The Addiction is well directed and acted horror/drama that won’t be to all tastes. But for those looking for a film that will make you think about it’s existential themes, it’s hard to go wrong with this most unusual film.