Isn’t it funny how a movie that starts with a line in voiceover narration like “my story can never be told” ends up being a two hour movie in which that story is told in great detail, right?
Eleanor (Saorise Ronan) and Clara (Gemma Arterton) are 200 year old vampire-like creatures (called “succreants”) in modern day England. Though they refer to each other as sisters, Clara is actually Eleanor’s mother. Eleanor keeps her blood thirst in check by only feeding on dying old people, while Clara supports them by prostituting. After meeting a doughy, bespectacled customer who owns a hotel named Byzantium, Clara sets up a brothel and believes that their problems have been solved. However, Eleanor meets a gangly, nervous teenager named Frank (Caleb Landry Jones) and she finds herself drawn to him. She aches to reveal her true nature to him but Clara has so far kept her unaware of the costs of that decision – they are being tracked by powerful dark forces. Intercut with this narrative is the story of how Clara and Eleanor became succreants and why they must hide their true nature from the world.
Comparisons to the Twilight series are inevitable, though BYZANTIUM is a bloodier, more vicious take on the material (still, though BYZANTIUM is rated R it is only briefly gruesome and gratuitous). At the very least, it’s a movie that is more tolerable for boyfriends (Gemma Arterton in various states of undress being more preferable than sparkly Robert Pattinson).
The film was adapted from the 2007 play A Vampire Story by Moira Buffini, who also adapted it for the screen, and was directed by Neil Jordan, who is best known for winning an Oscar for directing The Crying Game. I mention them both because I’m not sure who to blame for the two-hour runtime, which is far longer than necessary. This is because Byzantium has a tendency to repeat itself. For example, for roughly the first third of the movie Eleanor crosses paths with Frank (often by choice), but then runs away from when he gets too close (physically and emotionally). That’s a fine story bit, but not when it is repeated three times. It even becomes a joke when Frank (who, I might add, tends to dress like a hobbit) finally says to her “why do you keep running away from me?” Similarly, much of the film’s dialogue is spoken in harsh whispers meaning that there is this dreary tone running through the film for nearly its entire length.
However, BYZANTIUM is filled with gorgeous shots and both Arterton and Ronan rise above the sometimes silly dialogue with their performances. The movie will likely play extremely well with the Twilight crowd, especially those who liked the books and thought the film adaptations were too cheesy. Byzantium replaces that melodrama with blood and melancholia, which is a much better mixture.
Review Rating: 3 out of 5: See it ….. It’s Good