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STUDIO IFC Films
RUNNING TIME 118 Minutes
Like Interview With The Vampire, but with hot chick vampires instead of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise!
Gemma Arterton, Saiorse Ronan, Sam Riley, Jonny Lee Miller, Daniel Mays, Caleb Landry Jones
Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) have survived together as vampires for 200 years, but Eleanor’s need to tell someone her story puts them in jeopardy.
Byzantium is an interesting experiment in frame narratives, feminism in a generally male-dominated genre, and Neil Jordan making things ridiculously pretty. There are two narratives going throughout the film: the story of how Clara and Eleanor came to be vampires, and their modern day struggles to survive. The majority of the flashbacks are framed by the idea that Eleanor has written her story out and is reading it, so the viewer gets the history of things as Eleanor remembers (or was told, in some cases). The movie uses Eleanor’s ignorance about certain elements to create mystery about Clara. While this is fantastic storytelling, it can also be frustrating at times because Eleanor seems overly innocent for someone that is over two centuries old.
Eleanor only drinks the blood of the elderly and it appears that she has told her old-folks-home victims her life story before killing them to keep her personal demons at bay. She’s a lonely teenage vampire though, and when she meets Frank (Caleb Landry Jones, the creepy guy from Antiviral and X-Men: First Class), she decides that she’s going to tell him everything. The bloodsucking, her “older sister” Clara’s whorehouse days and current profession as a brothel mistress, the immortality, the whole shebang.
While Eleanor is a spoiled, angsty teenager, Clara is an absolute wild woman. She is brash, (seemingly) fearless, tough as nails, and seductive. Clara spends the majority of the movie with at least one bit of her lingerie peeking out of her clothing. She’s sex and death on heels, the stereotypical vampiress. What’s not stereotypical is that she doesn’t answer to any male vampires. Some have claimed that this film is overly-feminist and even “man-hating” due to its portrayal of gender inequalities in the vampire world. While it feels heavy-handed on occasion, the movie is mostly just telling a compelling story that happens to have some feminist tones. It should be noted that the original vampire stories were about women and that this film drew from those pre-Dracula tales.
Arterton and Ronan are fantastic in their roles, and Banshee from X-Men is actually sort of charming. Jonny Lee Miller, who portrays a nasty bastard that really sets the entire story into motion, steals every scene he’s in. He’s creepy and gross and it’s impossible to take your eyes off of him, even when you really want to.
Director Neil Jordan’s touch is obvious – this film feels like a spiritual successor to Interview with the Vampire. This film is gorgeous. The flashback sequences have fantastic costuming and sets and the contemporary sequences use florescent lighting to give everything a bizarre techno-ethereal atmosphere. The supernatural scenes, such as Clara’s first moments as a vampire, are creepy but ultimately beautiful to look at. Even the goriest of scenes in the film feels like high art – nothing is done for shock value. The mountains of the island where the vampires are turned have waterfalls that spew blood, and while they probably smell awful, they look lovely.
Alright, time for the negative aspects of the film. Due to the frame narrative of Eleanor telling her story and the other various flashbacks due to trauma/nightmares/staring off distantly like Edward Cullen, the timeline can get a bit confusing. Being picked up and dropped in the 1800’s and then swiftly returning to the 21st century is uncomfortable at first. Once the viewer gets used to the cadence of the movie, it’s not really a problem, but there are still moments when the setting is ambiguous until a piece of technology or modern clothing are shown.
Viewers may also have difficulties liking the two main characters. Clara’s treatment of Eleanor can seem cruel and selfish at times, and Eleanor is a 200 year-old angsty teenager without a facebook feed to whine on. Their behaviors come to be understandable as the movie goes on, but initially it’s just really difficult to like either of them.
Overall, Byzantium is fantastic. The acting is good, the directing is good, and the cinematography is excellent. The script is put together well and develops intriguing, unique characters through a complicated storyline. While these vampires can walk in the sunlight, this ain’t no Twilight. This beautiful, mature film is a must-watch for vampire fans and most horror fans.
The video and audio are crisp and clear and the Blu Ray menu is pretty enough. There are some interviews with the cast and crew and a trailer for the film, but that’s it for special features. A making-of for some of the makeup and gore effects would have been appreciated, but the movie makes up for the meager special feature offerings.
Rating: Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Out of a Possible 5 Stars