Review: Byzantium (TIFF 2012)
PLOT: Two centuries old vampires, Clara and Eleanor (Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan), on the run from the minions of their ancient order, hide out in a small coastal town, where Eleanor strikes up a romance with a young haemophiliac, Frank (Caleb Landry Jones).
REVIEW: BYZANTIUM is director Neil Jordan's long awaited return to the world of vampires, with his last entry into the genre, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, standing up as one of the better films of it's type. BYZANTIUM shakes up the vampire mythos a bit. Clara and Eleanor don't have fangs, but rather use a retractable thumbnail to pierce the skin of their victims, and can walk around in the daylight without any problems.
Otherwise, BYZANTIUM does thematically parallel it's predecessor a bit, especially in regards to Eleanor, who's been an eternal sixteen year old due to having been turned at such a young age- with shades of Kirsten Dunst's even younger vamp in INTERVIEW. Sweet and eternally virginal, Eleanor refuses to feed on unwitting victims, only using her power to euthanize those who seek death. The more worldly Clara, who was a prostitute when she was turned, continues on in that profession, and she feeds on predatory pimps, or people that get in her way.
Arterton and Ronan make a striking pair of vampires. Arterton is the more fetishistic one, using her sexuality to land the girls a sugar daddy in the guise of a distraught young man that's inherited a hotel. Clara promptly turns the hotel, Byzantium, into a bordello, where she begins making enough money to allow Eleanor some degree of normalcy. She's enrolled in high school, where her maturity leads to questions from suspicious teachers (including Tom Hollander of Ronan's HANNA), and the affections of the sickly Frank. Ronan has that otherworldly look, with her striking blue eyes, that makes her the ideal thoughtful and eternally young vampire.
As her onscreen love interest, Texan Caleb Landry Jones affects a subtle accent that comes and goes, but he's appealing and they have good chemistry. Much of the film unfolds in flashbacks, which show Clara and Eleanor's origins- where they became the playthings of two aristocrats- one vicious (Jonny Lee Miller) and the other more thoughtful, as played by Sam Riley, who continues his pursuit of our heroines into the modern world. The way the girls are turned is visually quite striking, involving a waterfalls of blood, and a pilgrimage that involves a trial by fire, where only the successful can be turned. While I hesitate to say BYZANTIUM is quite as good as INTERVIEW, or some of Jordan's other films, it's nonetheless quite intriguing, with a unique take on the mythology. It's refreshing seeing an ambitious, smart vampire film that owes more to THE HUNGER than TWILIGHT, and while it had some issues (a bit of goofy dialogue, such as when one vamp declares they are “the long fingernail of justice”), I was thoroughly entertained. Should this prove a success, I could easily see the world of BYZANTIUM explored in a follow-up.