Director – Neil Jordan
Cast – Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Caleb Landry Jones, Sam Riley, Warren Brown, Thure Lindhardt, Glenn Doherty, Gabriela Marcinková, Daniel Mays, Uri Gavriel
Release Year – 2013
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I am not a big fan of vampire films, but I am definitely a big fan of Neil Jordan films (Interview with the Vampire, The Company of Wolves). After a near 20 year hiatus from the genre (and vampires), Byzantium brings him back to the sub-genre he loves so dearly, and he does so with damn good results. As with most of his efforts, this is a story-driven film that also comes with superb direction to seal the deal. Vampires are not my thing, but Byzantium is a perfect example of vampires used as they were meant to be used: to sell the despairs of love and sacrifice.
Suffering the pitfalls of eternal life, mother-daughter vampire duo Clara and Eleanor are on the run and take refuge in a sleepy coastal resort. The lonely Noel offers them shelter in his empty guesthouse, Byzantium, but what seems like an ideal situation for the vampires in hiding proves costly when Eleanor befriends the charming Frank and tells him their deadly secret.
If you enjoy films that rely heavily on good story telling then you are sure to enjoy this Moira Buffini screenplay, adapted from her play “A Vampire Story”. The first act moves quickly, giving us insight into the lives that Clara and Eleanor are forced to live. Clara provides sexual favors for money, which comes at the behest of her daughter Eleanor. Eleanor knows that her mother is doing what she “has” to do in order to provide for their monetary necessities, but it is far from the life she wishes they could live. We soon learn that a sect of vampires known as the Brethren have been hunting Eleanor for 200 years, after her mother broke an code she swore to abide by. When they eventually arrive at their new home they seem to have it made. Clara is able to expand her prostitution business and Eleanor is finally able to attend school and enjoy the company of the opposite sex, which is where Frank comes into the picture. As with most cases involving secrets you should keep to yourself, desperate desires lead Eleanor to spill the beans to Frank, putting both her and her mother in serious danger of being found by the Brethren, who are still in pursuit of the two. Buffini does a fantastic job of selling this story as a drama, a fantasy, and a horror film, although this flick’s emphasis is in such order. There is plenty of horror to make this a horror flick, especially with some sweet gory kills, but the drama and fantasy make this more than your basic genre film.
Neil Jordan’s direction is as good as ever, bringing this highly engaging story to life with amazing atmosphere and good performances from our lead actresses. Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton do a fantastic job selling Eleanor and Clara to the viewer, both on their own and when they are together. The chemistry between them is real and while pretty much every other major supporting character did well in his/her roles, these two stole the show. Jordan’s direction of the horror is also very well done and as I mentioned earlier, he delivers some gory kills for us to enjoy. The focus of the film isn’t so much the kills as it is the horrors that come with living a life of eternity, but thankfully Jordan makes the most of the horror when it presents itself.
Overall, Byzantium is a fantastic story-driven experience that blends drama, fantasy, and horror into one of the greatest vampire tales since Let The Right One In / Let Me In. While the horror is not at the forefront this is still a great horror experience that has so much more to offer than the cheesy Underworld-esque vampire flicks we get these days. If you are looking for a genre flick that demands your undivided attention, Byzantium is highly recommended.