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I have just seen this film as part of the famous Bridport Film Festival called "From page to screen". It features films that have been adapted from books and are very often accompanied, either before or after the screening, by a question and answer session with either the Director, Producer or Author etc. Bridport is in the county of Dorsetshire in the United Kingdom. This pre-release screening of Byzantium was enhanced by a very informative Q&A with the Producer Stephen Woolley. If you are expecting fangs, crucifixes, coffins and garlic prepare to be surprised! These vampires are a new take on a familiar theme. Much of the film is shot on location in the seaside town of Hastings which gives it a fabulously grungy and stark atmosphere. I have to admit that I didn't really want to go and see "another" vampire film. Believe me when I say that this is not just "another" vampire film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this film as part of the Brussels International Fantastic film
festival 2013 (BIFFF), where it was the main course of the opening
ceremony, featuring director Neil Jordan as the guest of honor. It was
a very unusual opening night (I say this as an experienced film
festival visitor): we had to wait outside the venue for a very long
time (for reasons unknown), access control was sketchy (to say the
least), the audience was very noisy (especially in the beginning, but
reduced considerably once the story in the film took off), and there
were several people in obvious disguise (a priest, a soldier, and many
others) whose task it seemed to entertain the public before the actual
event started. At last, we (over 2000) found our places and sat through
obligatory speeches (intermixing french and dutch, while the other
language appeared as subtitles on screen), mentioning all sponsors
(accompanied by boo's and/or applause from the audience), handing over
an award for Neil Jordan and knighting him in the order of the Raven,
and finally the screening of Byzantium what it was we all were waiting
The category labels "Horror, Vampire" did me hesitate somewhat beforehand. But I must admit, after all, that the net result did not disappoint, at the same time demonstrating how difficult it is to categorize a movie in an informative way. In his short introduction (ultra short, not by his fault), director Neil Jordan assured us that this vampire film was "different", and his words proved to be very true. The vampires we saw here could live normal lives in broad daylight, and even were visible in a mirror. All the standard things we see in middle-of-the-road vampire movies, were avoided. The film makers were right in this, since the story can easily do without these clichés and stand on its own feet. So no crosses, no holy water, and no coffins. And finally, no horrendous screaming and no squeaking doors either, both seemingly unavoidable in any "horror" movie.
There was an ingeniously constructed story, that brought all the elements of love and hate, loyalty, and reluctance to harm (or let harm) someone loved. There is even a vampire brotherhood that refuses women as members, or even to exist as vampires, hence continuous hunts for our two main characters to eliminate them. For spoilers sake, I refrain from giving more details here. Especially what it is that binds the two women, who are telling everyone they are sisters and that one is appointed as legal guardian over the other when their mother died, is an important element that is kept for us until the finale. Even their age and their origins are revealed to us along the line in very small doses.
On the deserted island (of course cursed, according to some seamen) we see the mountains suddenly covered with blood when someone enters the mysterious cave and decides to give up his soul. Even worse, we see the phenomenon repeated several times with different persons undergoing the ritual. I don't think this contributes much, and rather distracts us from what it really is all about. The multitude of birds that each time leaves the scene on the crucial moment, has much more impact to underline the mystery of the ritual and could on itself be enough, However, since blood is a core element in vampirism, I assume that this abundance of blood could not be left out, if only to satisfy the average viewer who assumes this is part of the deal. For the record, I consider this my only minus point for the whole movie.
All in all, I was very happy to see the clichés of vampirism avoided, and even the appearance of blood was reduced to a necessary minimum. This won't satisfy the average vampire movie lover, but that is not my problem. The underlying plot, combined with the way it is brought to us, makes this into a totally "different" vampire movie, just as the director announced in his introduction. Nearly two hours running time is above average for the hasty ones among us, but in my opinion well spent.
Byzantium is the story of a mother and daughter vampire duo who
evacuate a town they have been inhabitants of for years in the search
of somewhere else they can situate themselves as they have been tracked
down by a member of the brotherhood bent on killing them. While in this
new town, they find love and prospects, however the past can never be
Byzantium stars Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arteton and Caleb Landry Jones. The film is also directed by Neil Jordan and written by Moira Buffini, who also wrote the play this film is adapted from.
I am unfamiliar with the play, as I am sure the majority of people who view this are, so I cannot compare the two in terms of how true it stayed to the original material or how well the transition worked from play to screen. However, what gives me some sort of security in its transition is the fact that the woman who wrote the play also wrote the screenplay and I highly doubt she would alter anything that didn't need altering.
I approached this film for two simple reasons - Neil Jordan and Saoirse Ronan. I, personally, believe Saoirse Ronan is one of the best actresses of this generation as well as one of the best actors of all-time. She has the potential to the best actress of all time, she just needs to locate the perfect role. This wasn't it, however don't let that statement undermine her acting abilities because she was good. Just not great, and that's a compliment.
Gemma Arteton was solid. I felt she wasn't great, however nothing she did made me cringe or sigh so I will solidify my comment that she was solid. However, Caleb Landry Jones, I did not like. I'm unsure as to why I believe I don't view him favorably. Possibly due to the character or possibly due to his actual acting, it just didn't feel appropriate.
The directing was great along with the cinematography. However I can't help believing it needed a little extra. For some of the shots and overall tone of the film, I felt it required a little more visual flare, as a replacement to stationary, solemn shots. And that's one of it's flaws in my opinion is that it wasn't aware of what kind of a film it was. Tonally, certain aspects were appropriate, however certain aspects weren't.
Certain dialog seemed a tad bit forced also, however the majority of that is from Frank - Caleb Landry Jones - and as I previously stated I'm unsure as to whether that's a flaw in the actual writing or the acting. However, all things considered, the film is highly entertaining and 2 hours feels diminished. I just cannot help wondering that it had the possibility to be something more, it just felt like it would never reach it.
A solid 7/10. Tonally incorrect, however enjoyable and features solid performances. It just required a little extra work.
Over the course of five years I think it's safe to say the reputation
of vampires has been well and truly tarnished. Instead of being blood
sucking beasts, audiences seem more interested in watching them make
love and glisten in the sunlight, however that's were director Neil
Jordan steps in. Admittedly Byzantium isn't the most traditional
vampire movie, but that's not a problem, because the end result is a
fresh, innovative take on the creatures that may have installed some
credibility in the post Twilight era.
Essentially the main-plot of Byzantium follows the mother and daughter duo of Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan. The two continuously move from location to location due to them having to hide their secret that no-one is aware of, however upon seeking refuge at a rundown coastal area, their secret is uncovered, which results in their past calling for blood.
Now as I have said, in the last few years vampires have been getting a hard time. Whenever you see or hear of vampires these days, the first thing that usually comes to mind is that of Robert Pattison. Personally I am not a fan of the Twilight movies and I have to confess I was quite sceptical going into Byzantium, due to the supposed vampire themes. However, I am happy to report that Byzantium is an original, different and genuinely great movie that I would regard as one of my favourite films of the year so far.
The films concept is in my opinion superb. As soon as the film began I was invested. One thing that I liked in particular was that the film showcased rarely a dull moment. It is very well paced and the story is just great, with some rather intriguing flashback sequences being utilised brilliantly to connect all the dots.
Aside from being very well written, the films' setting is another factor as to what makes it so enjoyable. Personally I felt that the run-down coastal setting was just superb. Not only because it sets the tone and feel of the movie, but it just gave it that added creepiness that you would expect from a movie like this.
The cinematography is very good and in terms of visuals I think the film was one of the best looking that I have seen in a long time. Understandably the mood is very dark and occasionally quite Gothic, but again, not only is the seaside primitive in establishing that, some of the other locations really are just as good.
Aside from Jordan's fantastic direction, the thing I liked most about Byzantium was the acting from its two leading ladies. Beginning with Saoirse Ronan, as we all know she is a fantastic young actress who very rarely fails to come up with the goods. In this movie she is playing quite a reserved, intellectual who is quiet but intriguing nonetheless, whereas her on screen mother portrayed by Gemma Arterton is the exact opposite. Now I think it would be unfair to compare the two because although they are both playing vampires, they are very different characters to say the least. There's no two ways around it, Ronan is genuinely great in this movie, but I thought the real star of the show was Gemma Arterton, who I felt was absolutely fantastic. In my opinion Arterton showed a very different side to her normal self in this movie. Whilst I wouldn't go as far as saying the role was too demanding, I have never seen her play a part like this, and honestly I think she should do it more often, because it has shown a massive amount of versatility on her part.
In terms of chemistry Ronan and Arterton work wonders on screen and if it wasn't for their performances I honestly think that this movie would have panned out very differently. So in terms of casting I think it's a job well done.
This really isn't the type of film that you're going to forget in a hurry. Personally I could watch it again and that really is saying something, as I rarely watch something more than once, however with that being said one final thing that I would like to touch upon would be the musical score.
Again this was another key factor in establishing the look and feel of the film and it really worked. This is a rare movie where everything just blends simultaneously and for that reason alone I most certainly feel it's worth investing two hours in.
Byzantium is a great movie that really makes me feel passionate as a critic. In a year where films have been slightly hit and miss, this film is definitely a hit. It has a great vision and knows exactly what it wants to be. Supported by two stand out performances this is British-Irish film-making at its near best and as I stated it is one of my favourite films of the year so far.
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... This is how to make a vampire film.
I find it difficult to fault this film. The plot is intelligent and engaging. No one is entirely black or white. The heroes are flawed and complicated, the villains, for the most part, have motivation and even sympathy. I found myself rooting for the murderous, vampiric prostitute as much for the innocent girl trapped into releasing those tired of life.
It's really two films, one set 200 hundred years ago, one in the present time, with many of the same characters and the same location, Hastings, once a fishing village, now a tired seaside resort.
The actors are very good, particularly the leads. As a resident of SE England, I recognised many of the locations. The ending was perhaps a little predictable, but still satisfying.
Don't go see this if you like your vampires to sparkle, but if you liked Let The Right One In and gritty drama, go watch it.
A mother and daughter flee the mayhem they've caused in London and
relocate on the Sussex coast. Clara (Gemma Arterton), a ruthless
predator, opens a brothel on the top two floors of a Victorian
sea-front hotel owned by a local weirdo (Daniel Mays) who's infatuated
with her. Daughter Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan)befriends sickly teenager
Frank (Caleb Landry Jones) and, to her mother's anger, tells him the
truth about herself. A couple of creeps masquerading as cops are on the
women's trail: in this revised vampire orthodoxy "The Brotherhood"
doesn't allow lady members. Johnny Lee Miller plays Ruthven, a Georgian
dandy who unintentionally recruited Clara 200 years ago. Tom Hollander
has a thankless cameo as a New Age therapist.
Screenwriter Moira Buffini takes other liberties with the traditions of the Undead: instead of fangs they use an extending fingernail (borrowed from Wolverine?) to open up their victims. Much as he did in INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, his previous foray into Bram Stoker territory, director Neil Jordan applies a highly individual approach to this "hallowed" (or should that be unhallowed?) ground. A glimpse of one of the more threadbare Hammer Dracula series on TV reminds us that things have moved on since Christopher Lee hung up his cape.
Inevitably we're going to compare this to Sweden's LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, the Swedish movie that reinvigorated the vampire genre a few years ago. The weakest link in BYZANTIUM is Gemma Arterton's performance: she plays Clara like an EastEnders barmaid (to be fair, the script encourages this interpretation: she's given some crudely modern lines), whereas Eleanor and Ruthven and the Brotherhood all seem to belong to the age in which they were spawned.
Still very worth seeing. Jordan's movie makes harmless Hastings (I lived there for five years) seem as spooky and dark as John Boulting's Brighton in the original BRIGHTON ROCK.
In a rare treat, I approached Byzantium blind. Far too many trailers
nowadays blow the entire plot in two minutes and render the full
viewing experience pointless, The Hangover Part III being the latest
case in point - although that was a worthless experience for far more
than the trailer! Highly publicised as a return to vampirism for
director Neil Jordan (after 1994's Interview With the Vampire),
Byzatium has more in common with Let the Right One In than 30 Days of
Night, so if you're looking for a bloody rampage, this will leave you
disappointed. If, however, you're looking for a more thoughtful journey
it's worth stepping away from the currently influx of blockbusters and
taking a quick look at this.
When Clara (Gemma Arterton) and her daughter, Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), arrive in a decaying coastal town they bring with them 200 years of personal history and the risk of brutal death to those who cross them. Either by force of habit or inability to do anything else, Clara barely supports them through prostitution and sees an opportunity for security with troubled punter Noel (Daniel Mays), who owns the decrepit guesthouse, Byzantium, while Eleanor finds companionship with the sickly Frank (Caleb Landry Jones). But history catches up with everyone in the end and Cara can't escape the trouble that seeks her out in the form of Darvell (Sam Riley).
This is an odd little film that passes by with a smidgen of eroticism and a hint of horror, but mostly it is a look at a mother-daughter relationship that isn't so far removed (except from the sex and murder, perhaps) from most parent-child relationships when the former clumsily strives for the best while the latter rebels no matter what.
There are a few sequences when timelines cross or are echoed in the modern day that are almost whimsical and certain scenes don't quite fit together smoothly (the scenes with Tom Hollander, curiously uncredited as the teacher, are necessary but feel a little shoehorned) but that is often one of the attractions to Jordan's work. Sometimes it is refreshing to abandon linear, traditional storytelling for slightly quirky and vaguely ambiguous filmmaking.
Arterton and Ronan make a curious double act and the relationship is beautifully confused as they clash, contrast and meander through life together. There are times when Arterton feels content to play herself rather than embellish a well-written character but she is always watchable, even if one does so in the hope of being convinced. Ronan plays bland well, but perhaps too often (after the lightweight The Host) and, though she is more than adequate here, I can't help wishing she'll dive into something more akin to Hanna lest she blend permanently with the scenery.
There are enjoyable turns form both Mays and Riley, though neither breaks out of the mould, and Johnny Lee Miller is back on Plunkett & Macleane form as Ruthven, a man cheated out of, well, you'll just have to watch it. Jones, as Eleanor's odd boyfriend/companion draws us in though he isn't an entirely likable character. It's not that he's unpleasant, just ghostly, a pale imitation of a human. Perhaps that is why Eleanor feels safe with him but one feels a strange compulsion to watch him without getting too close. His isn't a showy role but he is certainly the abiding memory long after the credits have rolled. Him, and Arterton in a bodice.
Byzantium is a moody film in texture and tone rather than emotion, which serves well to downplay the lives of the characters, every one of which is, in some form or another, a victim in the dismal beach resort. The colour is rare but used with fine effect to increase the sexuality of characters and the presence of life in death. Oh, and the blood 'shower' is vastly superior to that in the truly awful The Moth Diaries.
See it with caution; not for fear of being horrified but in preparation of not being titillated, enthralled or completely fulfilled.
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As most reviews have mentioned this is a refreshing and original
variation on the vampire theme which does not fall flat on its face. I
went in with the knowledge that Neil Jordan was also responsible for
"Interview with a vampire" all those years ago. Byzantium had a similar
feel to that.
Without giving away too much of the plot, we see two vampire who have opposing ideals. In this way, we see a stark similarity to the contrast between Lestat and Louis. We never truly find out how they became vampires but this mystery was actually best left untouched.
The only weakness for me was, I did not feel anything for any of the characters. There were romantic sub plots but these were so cold. In fact, the tone of the film was very cold and barren.
The first half of this film is just awful. This reviewer found it
boring, cold and uninteresting. So much so, that I gave serious
consideration to walking out. Reluctant to write-off my admission fee,
I decided to stay, but also decided that the film was so uninteresting,
that there was nothing to write about, and thus that I would not do a
review. The second half of the film was good, hence this review.
However be warned, the first half of this film is bad, but grit your
teeth and wait for the second half, which is worth waiting for.
This film is rated 15 in the UK. It was filmed in Ireland and directed by Neil Jordan who previously wrote and directed 'The Company of Wolves', however unlike 'TCOW', Jordan did not write the screenplay for this film.
Film opens in a grim modern-day urban setting. A girl has a secret, which she has to keep, but the secret is bursting out of her, and she writes her secret down on paper, and then throws the paper away. We are given no explanation for this behaviour although the girl narrates this in voice-over which continues throughout the film. Her female companion is older and shares the secret. The older woman is a ruthless user of men but again the reason why is not explained.
Most of this first half of the film seems more of a study of criminality, depravity and deprivation. If this is an accurate representation of modern-day big-city Ireland following the economic collapse, then it paints a truly grim picture and is a good indictment of it. However there is little vampirism in this half of the film.
The modern-day depravity is mirrored by the first Gothic flashbacks, all very grim. The modern scenes are cold and uninteresting and have no back-story, so we do not care about the characters and what they are doing, which doesn't seem much. Perhaps this is deliberate, the scenes are cold because they would appear cold through the eyes of a vampire.
Thankfully around half-way through the film, the scenes get more intense and interesting, not just the Gothic scenes, which we get liberal doses of, but also the modern scenes too. The brief appearance of a stake, seemed to signal to this reviewer, that the second half was worth waiting for, and so it turned out. The film got into full Gothic-vampire mode and became entertaining and gripping. There is action, some doomed romance and even a hint of humour. This is however a modern film, it is no Hammer Horror, apart from the briefest of brief appearances by a stake, this is really a complete reworking of the vampire genre, the leit-motiv of former times is completely jettisoned. Vampires yes, but it is not old-school.
This film is really a vampire film of two halves; the first-half bad, the second-half good. By the time we reached the end of the second-half, this reviewer was willing to go into extra time, so do not leave early, stay and enjoy the second half. 5/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Clara, 30-ish, and given to casually and cheerfully using her sexuality
to take advantage of men, lives with Eleanor, mid-teens and rather
prim. They have to flee when Clara brutally kills someone who has been
hunting them, ending up in Hastings where Clara sets up a brothel in a
seedy hotel owned by recently orphaned mummy's boy Noel. Meanwhile
Eleanor finds herself drawn to teenage leukaemia victim Frank, we
discover that these two are actually mother and daughter 200-year old
vampires, and the mysterious vampire order is still hunting them.
Vampires is a misnomer as the only elements of familiar vampire lore are consuming blood and not ageing: I would call them haemophages. This moody little piece has some good elements. Its atmosphere of seedy present-day Gothic is effective, Gemma Arterton as Clara has fun with a colourful character, the period flashbacks are effective, the gradual revelation of key elements is good, and the sudden bursts of violence are all the more effective for being infrequent and shocking.
But there are also elements which are less effective. The backstory has gaps in it - non-essential to be sure, but I would have liked to know (for instance) more about the organisation which is pursuing the two women. And I felt that there was much which was misconceived about Eleanor. Much as I love Saoirse Ronan, Eleanor is rather glum and one-note, seems to have nothing personality-wise in common with her foul-mouthed extrovert mother, and - importantly - gives little indication of having had 200 years of experience. Noel (Daniel Mays), a character with potential, was underwritten, and I could hardly understand a word Caleb Landry-Jones' Frank uttered.
Even so, if non-standard (and non-Twiglet) vampire films appeal, this tale of two haemophages may well satisfy.
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