Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Haunting Vampire Story but Full of Missed Opportunities
Byzantium, the secondary turn into the vampire genre for Director Neil Jordan since the Oscar-nominated Interview with a Vampire, is a much more paced and melancholic piece. The film adapted to the screen by Moira Buffini from the play of the same title, adopts the female protagonist perspective and we are introduced to mother and daughter, Clara and Eleanor Webb (Hansel and Gretel's Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan of Atonement fame) who initially appear to be no more different than any other single parent family that happen to be vampires.
After more than 200 years of going from place to place, Eleanor is weary of their existence 'outside of time' and longs to tell a story her mother has forbidden her to tell. While Clara is sociable, engaging, she has continued through the years, unchanged and working in the world's oldest profession. Eleanor in contrast is quiet, reclusive and only submits to her thirst by only feeding on the elderly who consent to die. She is conflicted by Clara's inability to seek change and their continual lies.
Clara and Eleanor arrive in a sleepy seaside town which is very familiar to Eleanor and we see their history in flashback. Things change when they meet two men: a client, grieving Noel (Daniel Mays) and Clara discovers he owns a run down guest house named Byzantium and moves herself and Eleanor in with him and Frank, a young Leukaemia patient (X-Men: First Class's Caleb Landry - Jones) and immediately keeps her distance despite his interest.
Frank's 'temporariness' makes him an appealing listener to tell her tale but also a source of conflict between the close knit family who, up until now only had each other.
The most interesting twist to this dark tale is using the female perspective as it allows for us to engage with the two female protagonists and empathize with Clara as a survivor of forced prostitution and Eleanor as her only family and conscience.
Byzantium is an interesting take on the exhausted vampire genre with Jordan's solid reputation for haunting, absorbing and cinematic storytelling, this should have been able to stand solidly apart from other films of the genre but it suffers from a loss of purpose in the story. It lacks exposition on the origins of vampires and their motivations as the 'claws of justice'. It also misses a golden opportunity to exploit this direction where female vampires are hunted down as mistakes of nature by their own species.
The positive driving forces are within the strength of the performances of the female leads Arterton embraces the torrential vigour and maternal strength of Clara whilst Ronan pulls off the haunting, sinister bearing of a creature who is burdened by the isolation and monotonous cycle of sameness her existence has built but is also simultaneously innocent, curious and naturally hesitant of first love. Ronan also plays the piano herself in the role.
The relationship is a tense, chaotic power struggle as mother tries to provide but will not go beyond her boundaries of her trade and the daughter who struggles with the lies and deception of their lifestyles but is burdened by unfailing connection to her mother. The film cannot quite decide if Clara's sexualised behaviour makes her an empowered feminist taking ownership of her body or a tragic victim of men. Whilst Eleanor's feeding only on the dying makes her a conflicted and merciful killer but could also be veiled social commentary on assisted killing.
The supporting performance from Caleb Landry-Jones is under played, soulful and sensitive as the boy who has accepted his own fate and doesn't attempt to over-power the Arterton/Ronan dynamic. The subtle love story is almost in itself out of time because it allows us to see how unchanged Eleanor is despite her 200 years that first love has taken her right back to her adolescence.
The film was shot in the seaside town of Hastings which adds a wonderfully grim atmosphere with its dark shadows, shady boardwalks and the flashing lights of the arcades by the pier. The film meanders into some very interesting and new territories but cannot commit to one direction.