In times gone by Vampires were scary, frightening and occasionally misunderstood creatures that roamed the night in search of blood to suck whilst often avoiding capture from normal, mortal folk like you and I. Then Stephenie Meyer came along and ruined all the hard work of Dracula and Nosferateu by creating the Twilight series. Twilight took away everything that made a Vampire so terrifying and replaced it with a quiff and a gaggle of teenage girls. The Vampire as we knew it had had a stake driven straight through its heart by Meyer and within a few years the Vampires place in popular culture was that of a misunderstood heart throb.
With the exception of the terrific Swedish movie Let the Right One In back in 2008 those with a slight inclination towards the garlic fearing undead have not had much to celebrate so it’s a relief when a movie like Byzarium comes along to put a little smile back on our faces.
Byzantium is the tale of two Vampires who we are told are sisters. Gemma Arteton plays Clara, the older and presumably wiser of the pair whilst Saorise Ronan takes on the role of Elanor, the conflicted, sensitive and more intelligent younger sibling. The film focuses on the pairs present and past, looking at the events that have shaped their current existence and the situation they find themselves in.
The girls, forced to live a nomadic lifestyle find themselves in a seaside town (shot in Hastings) where they manage to snag themselves an easy living in a hotel known as Byzantium. The pair are seemingly on the run from their past, a dark secret of which we are teased throughout is closing in on them and they must do their best to protect themselves and their secret.
Arteton gives her most assured performance to date, dominating the screen every second she is on it as the strong and often ruthless Clara whilst this is perfectly juxtaposed with the subtle, intelligent and often haunting performance given by Ronan.
Sam Riley is also on hand as a detective closing in on the girls and gives us his usual solid performance, whilst Jonny Lee Miller is brilliantly cast as a ruthless captain in the girls past.
Director Neil Jordan has taken a gamble with the films narrative structure, flicking between the girls current dilemma and telling us how they got there through a series of flashbacks, a gamble which at times pay off and at times doesn’t. One major criticism of the film is the broken narrative at times manages to destroy any drama/suspense that had successfully managed to build up and obviously this can lead to frustrations.
The films narrative structure also meant it ran a total of two hours and whilst for the best part it managed to keep us entertained it did at times feel like the film may have outstayed its welcome a little.
But what really drives this film along so well is its new take on the Vampire mythology. The idea of a Vampire so conflicted with her condition that she opts to suck the blood of dying old people was certainly a nice new idea and the society in which they live and work is a fresh one for the genre to play with.
It’s also worth noting that the film more than earns it 15 rating, with a lot more graphic violence than I had anticipated and language that would have your grandmother saying her hail Marys more than once. It’s a Vampire film that doesn’t shy away, something that will please horror fans and also something that makes it a more much enjoyable film.
Verdict: Whilst the film isn’t without its flaws it’s a refreshing entry into a genre that has had its blood sucked by popular culture. Arteton dazzles whenever she is on screen whilst Ronan is also very impressive. This will please horror fans everywhere whilst Twilight lovers may well be in for a shock if they think this is going to be anything like the teeny rubbish they are accustomed to.
Byzantium is currently showing in the Stoke-on-Trent area at: