The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Byzantium | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Byzantium

A vampiric mother and daughter hide out in a seaside town.

Directed by: Neil Jordan
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Caleb Landry Jones, Daniel Mays, Sam Riley, Jonny Lee Miller, Gabriela Marcinkova, Kate Ashfield

200-year-old vampire mother and daughter, Clara (Arterton) and Eleanor (Ronan), are forced to flee their London home after being tracked down by a mysterious group of men who have been searching for the pair through the centuries. The pair hitch a ride to a coastal town where a lonely young man, Noel (Mays), invites them to stay in his family's abandoned guesthouse. Clara soon rounds up the town's prostitutes and turns the guesthouse into a thriving brothel while Eleanor enrolls in a writing school and befriends a young leukemia sufferer, Frank (Jones).
I have to confess I had given up hope of ever enjoying a vampire movie again, thanks to the genre's recent dilution through the 'Twilight' series and its saturation on T.V. In recent times, the vampire has become a brooding bore, a development which ironically began with Jordan's 1994 'Interview with the Vampire'. The director's latest film feels like something of an apology for the monster he created with the mood of that film. 'Byzantium' gives us a modern "emo-vamp", courtesy of Ronan (finally finding a decent role after a string of duds like 'The Host' and 'The Lovely Bones'), but in Arterton we have a reminder of how thrilling and sexual this type of tale once was. Arterton's performance is electric; there hasn't been a vamp this sexy, or scary, since the heyday of Ingrid Pitt. She tears up every scene she appears in as she follows a pseudo-feminist form of revenge on the men she sees as exploiting females (we see her character corrupted into prostitution at a young age). Ronan, on the other hand, has a novel way of feeding her bloodlust; helping her elderly victims with a form of assisted suicide.
There are nods to classic vampire films (the seaside setting is an obvious nod to Harry Kumel's 'Daughters of Darkness', and the gothic flashbacks recall the glory days of Hammer), and barbed jibes at the current watered down Pattinson representation of the vampire (meeting Ronan's boyfriend, the pale faced Jones, Arterton mocks "you're just the type Eleanor goes for, as sexy as a pair of shoes"). Jordan even references his own 'The Company of Wolves', clothing Ronan in a red-hooded jacket. He also gives us not one, but two, shamelessly fake, decapitated rubber heads. This is clearly a director working in a genre he loves, whilst remembering to keep it fun, something many of today's horror film-makers seem to have forgotten.

Eric Hillis