Monday, 11 August 2014

Byzantium (2012)

Director Neil Jordan is no stranger to the vampire movie. He did, quite famously, bring Interview With The Vampire to the big screen, somehow managing to craft a brilliant film despite the death of one of the original cast members (River Phoenix), criticism from author Anne Rice (who eventually recanted when she saw the final result), and ridicule from everyone who thought Tom Cruise incapable of effectively portraying the vampire Lestat. Well, Byzantium may not be quite the achievement that Interview With The Vampire is/was, but it's another very good film from a director who provides viewers with consistently interesting works, barring one or two mis-steps.

Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan are the two young women being a bit vampiric. They seem to be able to walk about in daylight, and don't sleep in coffins or anything, but when it comes time to label their characters . . . . . . . . . vampire is the most suitable title. Struggling to make ends meet and avoid scrutiny from the authorities, the two seem stuck in a vicious cycle, with Arterton's character using sex to make money and help her look after the youngster. But things are complicated by a young man (Caleb Landry Jones) who takes more than a passing interest in Ronan's character. As things build up to a climax, viewers are also told more and more of the main backstory to the characters, a tale that allows Jordan to once again refresh and play with the mythology of vampirism.

Not quite as interesting or thought-provoking as it could be, Byzantium is nevertheless a solid entry into the vampire movie subgenre. Written by Moira Buffini, adapting from her own play (and, admirably, the film never feels stagey at any time), there are some very interesting ideas toyed with, including a theory about vampirism being quite a "men only" club, but not enough time given to any of them.

Jordan does his usual great work as director, but his work here is often downplaying anything that would make the story too pretty or evocative of past horror work. This is the life of a vampire shown in all of its mundanity. Sitting between the fangs-out fun of films such as The Lost Boys, and Vamp, and the grimy, downbeat likes of Martin and The Addiction, Byzantium shows just how boring eternal life can be when it means always having to move along every few years and never being able to get close to anyone.

Arterton and Ronan are both fantastic in the lead roles, with the former really making it easy to believe how men could be won over by her, and the latter doing a great job of being an old head on young shoulders. Caleb Landry Jones overdoes the strangeness of his character, and his accent/mumbling doesn't help, but there are better supporting turns from Daniel Mays, as a very sweet man who becomes smitten, Sam Riley, Uri Gavriel, Tom Hollander, Maria Doyle Kennedy, and Jonny Lee Miller, having great fun as a complete bastard.

Although this is the weakest of the recent crop of vampire movies from the past few years (fans of fangs will most certainly want to check out We Are The Night and Kiss Of The Damned), it's still well worth a watch thanks to most of the main performances, a few great visual moments, and a thoughtful script.


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