Clara (Arterton) and her daughter Eleanor (Ronan) have been vampires for a long time. Looking to start a new life, they go on the run and end up in a sleepy seaside town, where Clara turns a run-down guest house into a bordello. When Eleanor reveals the truth about herself to a boy (Jones), however, word spreads and their past catches up with them…
Given that vampires haven’t been in short supply in cinemas over the last few years, you’d be forgiven for sighing cynically at the prospect of another vampire movie. Byzantium, though, isn’t just another vampire movie, as it marks the return of acclaimed filmmaker Neil Jordan to the genre (sub-genre?) 19 years after his Gothic semi-classic, Interview With The Vampire. There are a few thematic similarities here (the curse of immortality, a vampire’s need for confession), but this is a far less traditional and campy affair, with Jordan finding a new-ish angle to the world of vampirism. Seductive, stylish and quietly captivating, it’s arguably the best vampire movie since Let The Right One In.
A welcome antidote for anyone turned off by the po-faced emo antics of Twilight, Jordan creates a credible, authentic world which is only slightly removed from our own. As realistic as screen vampires get, these fanged creatures of the night don’t actually have fangs (they use a retractable talon instead), and aren’t really creatures of the night (they have no problem with daylight). Apart from drinking blood, there’s little about them which is unbelievable. Well, aside from the fact that they’re immortal, that is. The lack of explanation regarding this particular set of vampire ‘rules’ might leave things a little fuzzy, but it also ensures that the lengthy flashbacks (which detail how Clara and Eleanor were turned back in the 18th century) are all the more intriguing.
But Byzantium is as much about a mother-daughter relationship as it is bloodsucking, offering a perfect showcase for both Saoirse Ronan and a noticeably bustier Gemma Arterton. As the 200-year-old 16-year-old, the talented Ronan does well with a fairly one-note character (solemn, longing to share her story), but it’s Arterton who impresses most as the saucy, bosom-wielding lady of the night. Caleb Landry Jones is fine as Ronan’s love interest, but their romance is the film’s least involving plot thread, leaving the likes of Tom Hollander, Jonny Lee Miller and Daniel Mays to steal the supporting stakes.
Not just another vampire movie, Byzantium is seductive, stylish and quietly captivating. Arguably the best vampire movie since Let The Right One In.