As quite possibly the most internationally-known Irish director, Neil Jordan’s work is nearly always worthy of exploration. Some of his films are more celebrated and in the public knowledge than others but his latest (at the time of this review) yarn is a vampire tale called ‘Byzantium’.
Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) and Clara (Gemma Arterton) find themselves on the run after Clara murders a vampire lawkeeper (of sorts). Using her feminine ways, Clara meets the grieving Noel (Daniel Mays) whose mother has just died, leaving him to tend to the family hotel, Byzantium. This is the perfect place for the young women to hide out.
Poor Eleanor is a two-hundred year old teenager who has grown weary of constantly being on the run and struggling. She meets Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), a sickly yet age-appropriate young man. As they get closer, Clara establishes a brothel in the Byzantium and makes good money.
All the while, we get glimpses of the past to see where Clara and Eleanor came from and who or what is pursuing them.
Jordan has famously traversed these waters nearly twenty years earlier with ‘Interview With The Vampire’. Like that film, this isn’t concerned with being scary or a straightforward horror. Instead, it again follows vampires as they (to varying degrees) try to exist in a human-dominated world. This time around, our blood-sucking leads aren’t wealthy and ostentatiously prancing around, they are struggling to get by. Thankfully, this is fairly well-paced though the jumps back and forth in time are a little distracting.
The blood flows freely but mostly to serve the story. These moments help punctuate a story that isn’t nearly as restrained as one might imagine given the premise. We don’t have a tremendous amount of computer animated trickery, but the film is gorgeous looking. Another stylistic choice is the decision to have these vampires not feed with fangs, they rapidly grow their thumbnails and use that as a means of puncturing throats. Rather cool.
The contentious/co-dependent relationship between Clara and Eleanor drives this film. Eleanor’s gradual bond with Frank is certainly the x-factor in terms of complicating a pairing that has existed for hundreds of years. Clara’s single-minded obsession with not only surviving but thriving is audacious but she is less likely than young Eleanor to ever let on about their true nature. Frank’s circumstances lend a nice wrinkle to the story and is quite a contrast to a fellow young person with all the time in the world.
Special features include: interviews and a recorded Q and A.
‘Byzantium’ covers a lot of territory: period piece, modern horror, romance, and crime drama. Unlike ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’, this is never boring and shows that Jordan has a lot of filmmaking fire left in him.
Rated R 118 minutes 2013