Published Sep 18, 2012Sexy vampires don't have to be stupid or ridiculous. Both the genre and Neil Jordan benefit from the Interview With a Vampire director's return to deeply human expressions of the supernatural.
Drenched in vibrant, colourful design, with every emotionally loaded scene captured by symbolically deliberate, artfully composed cinematography, Byzantium is haunting and beautiful. Its themes are rich and numerous, committing to a poetic scrutiny of the loneliness born of deceit, the tenacity of women abused and manipulated by oppressive patriarchal attitudes, and how the subsequent toxic ripples of wounded dignity and desperation spill over to future generations.
The burden of living (indefinitely) with the secrets of her macabre existence are too much for Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan, Hanna) to bear in silence, but she dares not tell a soul that she's lived 200 years and subsists on human blood, even though she only choses victims ready to depart the mortal coil. So she writes it down and then casts the crumpled pages to the wind.
Unable to tolerate the solitude or her mother's secretive and manipulative lifestyle any longer, Eleanor essentially does the same thing with her trust when she meets a persistent boy wowed by her piano chops, deeming her desire to be known greater than the risk of discovery.
Gemma Arterton (The Disappearance of Alice Creed) shines (sometimes literally, bathed in gorgeously executed lighting schemes) as Eleanor's mother, Clara, a woman forced into prostitution at a disturbingly young age who continues to ply the flesh trade to make ends meet. Seen as abominations, the two women (passing as sisters) are hunted by the deeply sexist "Brotherhood" of vampires.
The story, by Moira Buffini, carefully marries this plot line to Eleanor's dangerous admissions, which take the form of flashbacks revealing the foul acts that set them upon their undead course. Jordan does an excellent job of creating arresting images that strongly reinforce the themes, like artful shots of Clara distorted through glass, reflecting the reality-blurring latticework of lies she lives in.
Through the sheer dynamism of the visuals some scenes comes across a little dramatized at times, but those beautiful embellishments are grounded by deeply realized performances, placing Byzantium in that all-too lonely class of thoughtful and mature vampire films. (West End)