The Addiction

(Abel Ferrara, USA, 1995)


The Addiction is a return to such stylish, minimal, black and white horror movies of the early ’60s as Carnival of Souls (1962). Ferrara’s film assumes its fantastique premise (vampires prowling the streets) as an everyday mundanity – all the better to immerse itself in the mysterious moods and intensities of a cosmic post-trauma condition.

The world is in a bad place here. Using a boldly didactic device characteristic of writer Nicholas St John, the NYU philosophy classes of Kathleen (Lily Taylor) index the twentieth century’s grim inventory of disasters, wars, the Holocaust … And as for Thana in Ms. 45 (1981), the burning question for Kathleen is: how to respond, what to do?

Destiny – in the form of an encounter with a sexy lesbian vampire (Anabella Sciorra) – decides for her an "undetached" mode of engagement. Academic learning doesn’t stand a chance against the junkie-like lust for blood, and as the final slaughter explodes, The Addiction becomes, like Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day (2001), a genuinely philosophical horror movie.

One of its themes is a reflection on performance: Ferrara’s films regularly redefine the parameters of screen acting and characterisation. Lili Taylor is the sum of her metamorphoses, a creature of drives, polymorphous perversity, pure screen presence. And Ferrara’s style accommodates such discontinuous acting with electric intensity: the spectacle of Kathleen hurling herself into a Bacchanalian dance or trying to claw a way out of her own body inspire enormous energy in the filming and cutting.

MORE Ferrara: Bad Lieutenant, The Blackout, China Girl, Ms. 45, New Rose Hotel, ‘R Xmas, Pasolini, Mary, King of New York

© Adrian Martin June 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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