I’m a big fan of director Neil Jordan because he always does projects that prioritize characters and story first before everything else, before gimmick and spectacle which are what Hollywood almost always banks on. Jordan’s previous drama, Ondine, reimagined everything we thought we knew about mermaids, and now, with BYZANTIUM, Jordan, who brought us The Interview With The Vampire, has brought us yet another vampire story, but this one was crafted by playwright Moira Buffini who also penned the script. This is not the kind you’d find in your young adult novels. BYZANTIUM is fierce and unafraid. Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan’s performances are as complex as their character are. This is the most riveting vampire drama I’ve seen in years.
Two mysterious women seek refuge in a run-down coastal resort. Clara meets lonely Noel, who provides shelter in his deserted guesthouse, Byzantium. Schoolgirl Eleanor befriends Frank and tells him their lethal secret. They were born 200 years ago and survive on human blood. As knowledge of their secret spreads, their past catches up on them with deathly consequence..
BYZANTIUM is a mother-daughter drama that can also be about sisters since the age of Gemma’s character, Clara, is not too far fro the age of Saoirse’s character, Eleanor, and they’re both stuck in immortality, going from town to town, avoiding the elegant brotherhood whose secret Gemma stole to save herself and her daughter from the lives that separated them, but their being together is at the cost of Eleanor not being able to tell anyone the truth and constantly having to lie puts a heavy burden on her shoulder.
BYZANTIUM is fascinating for many reasons, one because it focuses on two strong women, mother and daughter, and their raw emotional relationship and the tone is dark and it’s got stories within stories, you get to understand why Clara is so protective of Eleanor but you’ll also understand why Clara feels like any teenage daughter would, that her mom took away from her the normal life of a teenager and that honest relationship that a daughter would expect from her mother.
Another reason is that the vampires in this film can walk out in the daylight, and instead of fangs, they grow some kind of talon that they would use to puncture their victims’ throat. So it’s refreshing to see this take, definitely a break from your usual other vampires that can sprint, fly, and have superhuman strength. And the way they obtain their immortality, which involves a cave, is also unique.
The tone of the film is dark and frightening, Clara preys on those who prey on the weak, whereas Eleanor visits the elderly who are on their dying beds, Clara is filled with rage and vengeance, where as Clara is guilt-ridden, merciful, and would rather be anything but a vampire, until she meets a boy.
So there’s a story about their past and a love story that comes along, BYZANTIUM has layers upon layers, the more you peel, the more irresistible and intriguing it gets. It’s a twisted, fantastical, supernatural melancholy dilemma that will make you ache like Eleanor aches for a chance to tell the truth, for a life with the boy she loves, for her relationship with her mom to be less dysfunctional if that could even be possible. These days, you can’t get a more unusual, more tender, more compelling vampire film than BYZANTIUM