Directed by Neil Jordan (1994)
by Sandy DeVito
"You followed me here, didn't you?"
"Yeah, I suppose I did. You seem interesting."
Alongside Tim Burton's drippingly gloomy Sleepy Hollow, Interview with the Vampire is, in my opinion, the greatest example of gothic filmmaking from the last thirty years. This is textbook gothica, but in the least boring way imaginable - everything in this movie lends it an unforgettable miasma of dark desire and aching melancholy, that precision of emotional tone that is so essential to this subgenre. Like great gothic films that precede it (Black Sunday, Dragonwyck, Nosferatu), it has hints of deep horror but is far more concerned with the foreboding dread of the eternal questions of existence, most readily, the curse of those who will live forever with their demons.
The intensity of setting here is owed much of the atmospheric perfection; Anne Rice's novels are often set in the decadent and decaying Southern gothic, and the eternal rot of the swamp juxtaposed with the aristocratic sensibility is a prescient metaphor that works especially when you're dealing with vampires. New Orleans and then later Paris are our settings for the two distinct acts of this story, and both are their own perfect choices for their narrative placement. Louis (Brad Pitt) is of the new world, wracked with morality and guilt - Lestat (positively intoxicating in his chaotic immorality, Tom Cruise, in his best role, ever) and Armand (Antonio Banderas, mesmerizing) are of the old world, too ancient to feel human any longer. Claudia (Kirsten Dunst), forever cursed to a child's body, is the anomaly that throws the vampiric condition into garish light, and her torment is perhaps the greatest, as she is forced to exist in a way that goes against nature.
The cast is so incredible. Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise have never topped these two performances since, in their long and illustrious careers. Cruise in particular is a seductive and destructive force of nature; this is the role he was born to play, and perhaps, this role is closer to what Cruise is really like behind the celebrity (and the downright weirdness of Scientology) that has consumed any hint of the face that resides within. I can't imagine any other person playing Lestat from hereafter (Stuart Townsend can eat his fucking heart out, and the inevitable trash heap that is the planned reboot cannot hope to touch the dark glory of this work of incredible, essential gothic art). He's just unmatched.
One of the more intensely homoerotic entries thus far in the gothic canon, as well, I can only imagine how much more intense it would be if Jordan had been able to make his masterpiece in 2016: Louis, Claudia and Lestat's complicated dynamic (loathing, lust, and a kind of twisted love, even) is deeply rooted in notions of the different aspects of love as an emotion, and the many layers of hate and resentment. And yet they certainly are a family - perhaps the family that exists only on an eternal spectrum, something humans could not hope to truly understand. The homosexual undertones are slightly more overt in the book (in the book for instance, it's clear Armand is making a romantic advance on Louis as well in his request for companionship, not to mention the scene where Louis drinks from Armand's servant boy and the boy is explicitly described as having an erection), but they are still surprisingly reserved there for the most part, specifically between Louis and Lestat. This is a tale all about the emotions that bubble under the surface of one's outward facade, and how much more complex those feelings would become over eons of time.
This is also an experience in gothic language; I was a newborn vampire weeping at the beauty of the night. The scene where Louis and Claudia visit the Paris colony's Theatre des Vampires is one of the more exquisitely orchestrated in all gothic cinema, and Louis and Claudia's exchange ("Vampires pretending to be humans pretending to be vampires," "How avant-garde.") clues us in to the complexity and mastery of its composition: farce, chilling reality in the confines of its narrative, exquisite art, love letter to death, and a fearful and longing stare into the void. I die every time.
Of course, in this version of vampiric lore, the rules are their own. Crosses are of no matter, and stakes will not kill them: in fact, only beheading and sunlight seem to do the trick, where Lestat survives both poisoning and fire, virtually indestructible. The tragedy of Claudia is that she could never have truly survived; Lestat's tragedy is he can virtually never die. This is not true horror, this is true gothic: this is the study of the nature of life when it is trapped in perpetual death and endless decay. This is the rotting of an eternity. And what an exquisite agony it is. Essential gothic cinema.