The posters and DVD cases may call this film Immortality, but the film's original title is still featured in the opening credits: The Wisdom of Crocodiles. That's a better, more descriptive title – not because the movie actually has much to do with crocodiles, but because it more accurately suggests the sort of low-key arthouse affair this is. It's a vampire movie, but it's not a vampire movie for those seeking Near Dark-style action, Bram Stoker's Dracula-style bombast or Twilight-style melodrama. However, like all of those films (and quite a few others), the film has its own unique take on the “rules” of the genre and uses vampirism to make its own collection of metaphorical points.
There's only one vampire in this particular vampire tale. His name is Steven Grlscz (Jude Law, I Heart Huckabees), and he's been around for a long, long time. He is not bound by the usual rules of vampire movies. He's able to walk around in daylight, he isn't bothered by garlic or crosses and he's perfectly capable of eating a regular meal. He doesn't even have sharp teeth. Alas, he does need to drink someone's blood at least once a month in order to live. His usual method of procuring blood is to romance a woman, make her fall in love with him and then kill her when they're in bed together. The method may seem unusually cruel, but it isn't without purpose: the quality of the blood is affected by how the victim feels about Steven.
As you may have already guessed, the film is less about vampirism and more about toxic relationships. It's about the way people use the affection of others for personal gain; hiding a darker side of themselves until they've trapped another person in an unhealthy relationship without an easy escape route. Steven is the adulterer, the gold digger, the emotional abuser, the physical abuser – the person you would delete from your life if you could start all over again. He doesn't seem like a bad person at all – he's polite, cultured, intelligent, charming and handsome, right up until the moment when he sinks his teeth into your throat.
Though we see a couple of Steven's victims early on, the majority of the film outlines the relationship he forms with Anne Levels (Elina Lowensohn, Schindler's List), a structural engineer who suffers from asthma. The film's chief form of tension comes from the disconnect between what we know about Steven's nature and what we're seeing unfold in front of us. The relationship between Steven and Anne looks on the surface like a genuinely affecting romance, particularly when he goes out of his way to help her out of some dangerous situations. Is he really, truly falling for her? Is this real love? Or is he merely adding seasoning to his feast? It's to director Po-Chih Leong's credit that the answer isn't immediately obvious.
Meanwhile, a pair of local police officers (Jack Davenport, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner) begin to suspect Steven's involvement in the death of his most recent victim. This seems to be an attempt to bring even further suspense to the table (attempting to persuade us that Steven may be as easily undone by the police as by his own emotions), but the law never really feels like a serious threat. Still, this plot strand does lead to a number of lovely scenes between Law and Spall, with the latter essaying the sort of down-to-earth guy whose willingness to see the best in everyone perhaps conflicts with his ability to do his job well.
The film's relatively slow pace and general moodiness often reminded me of Tony Scott's directorial debut The Hunger, though there's both less stylishness and less eroticism in this case. It could be argued that the ideas offered by Immortality might have been just as well captured in a half-hour short film, particularly considering the way that so much of the “cop drama” storyline ends up feeling like filler. I could do without the strained narration that bookends the film, too.
Still, it's a moderately interesting movie anchored by an even more interesting Jude Law performance. He can often be found relaxing in some sort of unusual pose, and there was more than one moment when I found myself thinking that he looked like some sort of human spider. The first fifteen minutes of the movie demonstrate that Steven is a monster, and Steven then spends the rest of the film's running time attempting to convince us he isn't. He makes a compelling argument, if not a convincing one.
Rating: ★★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 98 minutes
Release Year: 2000