Tuesday, 8 October 2013



From the director of Interview With A Vampire comes another gothic vampire tale, this time set in urban Ireland and based around Moira Buffini's 2008 play, A Vampire Story.


Clara (Gemma Arterton) and her daughter Eleanor (Soairse Ronan) are vampires, roaming from one city to the next in constant escape of the dark past that seems all too quick on their heels. The two rogues lead lives of lies with ever-changing identities and achieve survival through preying on weak lives and exploiting them for their needs. Clara prostitutes herself to filth on the street for fleeting company, quick feeds and fast cash, while Eleanor simply exists to float around and stick it out. But when they settle in a small seaside town and Eleanor finds a light in the darkness with Frank, relationships are tested and their habitual existence questioned forever.

Neil Jordan (The Company of Wolves, Interview With A Vampire) certainly has a knack for bringing an unnerving realism to his dark fairytales, as vampiresses walk the pavements alongside an ignorant humanity and inhabit the seediest corners of urban Ireland. It’s a stark example of Gothic fiction, brought to life through nightmarish circumstances, scene-after-scene depictions of morbid dystopias, and a story spanning a vast timeline dating back to the Napoleonic Wars.

But Byzantium seems a few years too late to claim a gothic revival, and thus stands more as a British amalgamation of borrowed concepts. The theme of the roaming, suburban vampire on the run who struggles to live with the consequences of their immortality in a modern society stemmed from European horrors like Let The Right One In (2007), We Are What We Are (2010) and We Are The Night (2010). Even the mythical context of their existence is reminiscent of the ancient folklore so commonly depicted in contemporary fictional works like TV drama Vampire Diaries.

However, where similar works have kept its immortals almost isolated to their own segregated fold, Byzantium’s protagonists are very emerged into society, and it’s that physical involvement that allows it to flourish with its characters and lead performances.

Eleanor is the narrator, the window from which we are invited into their secretive world, and the film’s more intriguing character. Ronan embodies a mature role as the righteous, good-willed monster, and impresses in her natural effortless to transition seamlessly into the innocent, childlike girl. We observe Eleanor’s coming-of-age tale through a series of self-prose, of which she confesses her haunting past to subconscious minds and blank pages as a vehicle to dispose of her pain. The predominantly classical score is chilling, complementing her thoughts and revealing the melancholy of her existence. 

But it’s the torn relationships Eleanor has with Clara and Frank that really exposes the strengths of Moira Buffini’s original play, A Vampire Story, which she adapted for Byzantium’s screenplay. While Eleanor damns Clara’s moral behaviour and is frustrated at the unforeseeable prosperity in their nomadic lifestyle, she shows strong affection towards her mother and an incapability to live without her. After stumbling upon Frank - a sorry, friendless soul recovering from Leukaemia who takes an immediate fancy to her – their oddities attract and their befitting bond grows to be the most touching and complex of all. Ronan and Landry Jones (The Last Exorcism, Antirival) must be the best in the business at performing awkward but endearing character roles. And together, they shine on the screen.

From the trickling drops of blood from a hanky to the gushing blood red waterfall, the exotic cinematography throughout is stunning, the imagery equally so. Unfortunately, the story is quick to lose direction after an hour when its attention switches from neat character interaction to the trudging back-story, which becomes confused with an overabundance of mythical substance. The tone too becomes warped as the initial efforts to create an enchantingly eerie mood become sporadic, giving way to irrelevant action set pieces and a hasty rush to end with some sort of climatic finale.

VERDICT: Ultimately, though Byzantium excels in creating an alluring atmosphere, it fails to maintain an enchanting hold by veering down an over complex route. Thus it escapes by the mere skin of its teeth through captivating visuals and superb lead performances.

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