Well that was a pleasant surprise! When I was a kid I ate up Interview with a Vampire. Loved that whole Gothic, sexy vampire thing (still gory, still vampires… just Kirsten Dunst and ladies in classic garb). Sure there are some moments of extreme melodrama that might be considered humorous, and I belly laugh at those perhaps more so now that I’m not listening to nearly as much Bauhaus or Christian Death. So I sit down to watch this new movie from IFC called Byznatium directed by Neil Jordan. Of course, I don’t remember that this is the guy who directed Interview with a Vampire, so I’m really just expecting a lousy, neo-piece of vampire lore complete with shitty caveats to classic legends with modern day sensibilities and some kind of rock n’ roll/industrial soundtrack. That’s what I thought anyway. After about thirty minutes you can imagine that I was pretty excited at the level of drippy bloody goodness combined with a coherent plot, acceptable and wholly interesting twists on the vampire canon and some amazing performances. I’m a happy horror fan because of this new movie, and I hope you enjoy it too, if you can keep an open mind that is.
Synopsis from IFC:
Clara (Gemma Arterton, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters) and her daughter Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan, Hanna) have been sating their need for blood for 200 years. Sensitive Eleanor relies on the elderly to survive, but Clara is far less compassionate, working as a prostitute and bringing a violent end to those who would take advantage of women. When the trail of bloodless corpses left in their wake forces them to flee to a coastal town, Clara sees an opportunity to set up a brothel in an old resort and provide for her daughter. But Eleanor, unwilling to continue living on the run, yearns to tell her story of life in the past, not anticipating the grave consequences doing so may have.
The first thing I will tell you is that while watching Byzantium I found myself comparing it to Interview with a Vampire, not knowing that it was directed by the very same guy. That means there’s something inherently Jordan in Neil’s style, and it works. It creates sexy, likable characters with depth. It also means he’s not going to runway at the site of blood and in fact enjoys, creatively slaying vamps (they don’t really call them vampires or at least they have additional nomenclature to assign to them but we know what they are) and humans alike in front of you. Not that Byzantium is redundant by any stretch of the imagination. It provides an unfamiliar tale with few familiar elements, an underlying love story and origin myth that weaves itself throughout the movie and self examination that maybe started with Interview with a Vampire and is picked up by Byzantium.
Performances are solid all around especially our two leading ladies, Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan. Both are exceptionally alluring while being dangerous as Hell. The greatest part about the development of these two characters is the innate human qualities that come out. This is only allowed because neither actress overacts which is perhaps why I consider a superior film to Jordan’s earlier vampire effort. There is great restraint which must come in part due to some excellent directing.
There are kills to enjoy, blood a-plenty and some spectacular set pieces as locations that really provide a unique viewing experience. This ain’t your mama’s Twilight and this isn’t a Sookie Crackhouse novel or television program (though I enjoy me some True Blood). This is a beast stirring just on the fringes of Anne Rice as brought to us by playwright and screenplay writer, Moira Buffini.
You can pick up Byzantium now. The disc comes with the trailer and interviews and looks friggin’ incredible on Blu-ray. It’s horror. It’s dramatic. It’s some kind of amalgamation of the two, but it’s a character story… a human… er vampire story… or whatever the Hell we have to call them now.
For those of you who compared this to Let the Right One In… maybe more like Let Me In.