"The Addiction" is unlike any vampire picture you've ever seen--but then it was directed by Abel Ferrara, poet of urban violence, from a script by Nicholas St. John so imaginative that it gets away with being as intellectual as it is visceral.
Wisely, Ferrara shot it in harsh, high-contrast black and white, for at moments it's such a blood bath that seeing it in color would be inconceivable. For Lili Taylor, that most distinctive of actresses--at once vulnerable and nervy--it affords an amazingly rich, ambitious role.
Taylor plays Kathleen, a New York University grad student in philosophy soon to receive her doctorate. We meet her as she's watching a slide show presentation of the My Lai massacre, a horror she regards as a matter of collective U.S. guilt, not just that of Lt. William Calley and his men.
As Kathleen walks home to her East Village basement apartment, a woman in an elegant evening gown (Annabella Sciorra) approaches her, greets her in a friendly manner and, with shocking swiftness, yanks her down a dark staircase and bites her in the neck. After much sickness, diagnosed as anemia, Kathleen realizes she has in fact become a vampire with a thirst for blood that will not be denied.
The gist of this jolting film is how Kathleen's new state alters forever her view of the universe. What she discovers is that evil is the most addictive drug of all. The film suggests that unless we recognize the capacity for evil within ourselves and resist it with all our might, and that unless we all take responsibility for the evil in the world, there will be no way of stopping its remorseless spread.
Although Ferrara dares to be intellectual in a manner virtually unique in commercial American cinema, he nevertheless doesn't forget how to entertain in the gory, bravura manner associated with him. Although it undeniably helps, you don't have to know your Heidegger from Hamburger Helper to enjoy "The Addiction" as a grisly yet unusual thriller of the supernatural.
Alternately lovely and ravaged-looking, Taylor carries the picture capably with an assist from Christopher Walken as a brutally tough-minded vampire far more experienced than she--"Eternity is a long time, get used to it" is his terse advice--and from Edie Falco as her friend and fellow student Jean, who has a cool, rational detachment that Kathleen now sees as obtuse.
"The Addiction" is no more for the faint of heart than any other film directed by Ferrara, whose concern for redemption increases with each new picture. It's tough, gritty, darkly humorous--and made with the hard-edged, get-on-with-it spirit and aura of danger that characterizes so much of Manhattan itself.
* Unrated. Times guidelines: The film is extremely bloody, has some strong language and is entirely inappropriate for children.
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Lili Taylor: Kathleen
Christopher: Walken Peina
Edie Falco: Jean
Annabella Sciorra: Casanova
An October Films release. Director Abel Ferrara. Producers Denis Hann, Fernando Sulichin.. Executive producers Russell Simmons, Preston Holmes. Screenplay by Nicholas St. John. Cinematographer Ken Kelsch. Editor Mayin Lo. Costumes Melinda Eshelman. Music Joe Delia. Production designer Charles Lagola. Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes.
* At selected theaters in the Los Angeles area and Orange County.