A tale of vampirism set in modern day New York, The Addiction draws an effective parallel between the squalid existence of the junkie, and the vampire's need for blood. Kathleen Conklin (Lili Taylor) is a young philosophy student, studying at New York University. Walking home from a film about the civilian victims of the Vietnam war, she is attacked by a glamorously dressed woman (Annabella Sciorra). Bundled down a dark alley, her attacker tells Kathleen that she will be freed only if she demands the woman goes, and means it. Too afraid to utter anything but the word 'please', the student is bitten viciously on the neck. The attacker gleefully reveals her bloody mouth to her horrified victim. In the days following the assault, Kathleen attempts to return to normalcy, but finds this impossible. What she initially takes for shock, soon becomes something more sinister, as she begins to thirst for blood. Affecting dark glasses by day, her hair becomes dark and lank, and she wears black, grubby clothes, in an vampiric version of junkie cool. She begins to hunt for victims, imitating the manner in which she was attacked. Her knowledge of philosophy, and her interest in war crimes, are used to justify her actions to herself.
If any were needed, The Addiction provides further proof that Abel Ferrara (Driller Killer, Bad Lieutenant) is one of the foremost directors currently working. He is a superb director of actors, with a skill for obtaining powerful, raw performances from his lead players. As with Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant, Taylor is allowed to give as much as she can to her role. Although her performance lacks Keitel's brutal openness, it is still powerful, and marks her out as a talented, daring actress. Indeed, Taylor dominates the film. From silent desperation, to whispered, arrogant seductions, and then to the screaming agonies of withdrawal, and the resignation of failure, she is compelling throughout. Filmed in black and white, The Addiction's daylight scenes use a palette of light, airy greys, giving the reassurance of an open, rational world. However, by night, (or in the self created night of a darkened room), Ferrara's film has a totally different look. Kathleen is seen enveloped in thick darkness, with just a tiny shaft of light to illuminate the highlights of her face. Lost in depression, she seems literally lost in the darkness that surrounds her, which serves as an externalisation of her state of mind. During the initial a ttack, a grid of shadows covers the vampire's face, giving the film an expressionistic quality at odds with the blandness of the daylight scenes. Ferrara eschews his giddy hand held style, using instead art house visuals of slow pans and dollies, and precise compositions.
Christopher Walken appears in a cameo as Peina, an older, more ferocious, and hypocritical vampire. Searching for his lost humanity, he boasts of his monastic self control, which allows existence on only minimal amounts of blood. After decrying Kathleen's overindulgence in hunting, he attacks her, leaving her drained and in agony, telling her that she cannot die. Nicholas St John's script treats the film's supernatural motifs with complete seriousness. Vampirism allows the film to explore addiction in all its forms, and also provides a method of spreading the 'illness'. The film also uses vampirism to give greater power to its theme of religious redemption. In a stunning scene, Kathleen attempts suicide, by asking that the blinds be opened as the sun rises. Lying prone in bed, lines of sunlight descend across the wall, illuminating a crucifix that hangs above her. The conclusion that philosophy is simply a way of justifying humanity's existence is not new, but the argument that everyone is an addict, all selfish junkies ruled by our own peculiar addictions is effective. The character's discussions of various philosophers leaves the film open to charges of pretentiousness, but it is exciting to find a genre film unafraid to flaunt its intelligence. It is amusing to note that being one of the undead has the effect of helping Kathleen's academic studies. It is as if her hunger gives her a deeper insight into the human condition generally. The film demonstrates that independent directors can still find much to say with themes such as vampirism. Worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as George Romero's Martin, and Guillermo Del Toro's Cronos, The Addiction is nothing less than a bona fide modern classic.