on July 9, 2013
In a time of many various forms of what it is to be vampire, like in 'True Blood', 'Twilight' movies, and 'Vampire Diaries'. Byzantium is a refreshing take on vampirism. Like the movie 'Underworld: Awaking' we have a mother/daughter team that is trying find their own identity in the world. However, in Byzantium, we get the real deal. What we find is a movie that is portraying a real life relationship between mother and daughter who are fighting to stay alive. To the detriment of an all male vampire league. The strength of the movie comes from the acting abilities of Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan, as the mother and daughter lead. In the world of the 19th century and in present time they both have to deal with a male dominated world. But in the end they find their own strength as women. Showing that women are just as powerful as men, intellectually speaking. However, the ending shows that there is the potential for a sequel. Like Christopher Nolan, if there is a sequel, I hope it builds on the first film.
The concept behind Neil Jordan's film BYZANTIUM is compelling: A mother/daughter vampire story. The grabs the attention right away. Jordan as director makes in more interesting, and an eclectic cast that includes the rising Gemma Arterton, the unusual Caleb Landry Jones and the excellent Saoirse Ronan makes it a must-see.
BYZANTIUM is moody, atmospheric, often bloody, sometimes funny and always interesting horror tale. It is not a SCARY movie...nor is it trying to be. Vampires don't really scare anymore...but Jordan proves that they can be interesting subjects for story-telling. BYZANTIUM is also often very slow moving and isn't quite as gripping as it thinks it is. I enjoyed the movie, I guess...but in many ways I APPRECIATED it more than I loved it.
I don't really want to give away too much of the plot, because much of the film is really the slow telling of the backstory of these two vampires. The film is set in modern times and shows how these two make their ways in the world. (These vampires can go out during the day, by the way.) They could probably settle into a "normal" life of sorts (except for the need to feed on blood and the lack of aging!), but they are being chases by a group determined to kill them. Again, I won't say more, because finding out the history of these two and their relationship to the group attempting to root them out is the fun of the film.
Arterton spent her last few years of "real" life as a prostitute, and even centuries later, she is a vampire who makes a living in the sex trade. Ronan was her daughter, abandoned to a convent as a baby and raised by nuns, and carries with her an intense guilt for what she is and a burning need to tell her story. Normally, she writes her story down on paper as a cathartic device, and then destroys her writing...only to begin again. Vampire OCD. But when she meets the brooding but interesting Landry Jones and the two begin a tentative romance...will she be able to stop herself from sharing her story?
Eventually, of course, events from both the past and the present must collide climactically...and I found the resolution of the story to be quite satisfying. While this film never quite got my blood pumping (I'd say Jordan is at his weakest as a director of action scenes)...I did find myself quite invested in the Ronan/Landry Jones relationship. And I loved much of the tone of the film...it feels old-fashioned in so many ways, and tells a touching backstory. This movie is an intelligent vampire film. Yes, there are still moments of silliness or times when credulity is strained...but it's well plotted and well acted.
It's leisurely pace DOES keep it from being a visceral experience, as I said. You care about the characters and you have an interest in the story and its outcome. But I wanted to be swept away just a bit more. Thus, I can only give this 4 stars out of 5. But I believe it's well-worth seeing...particularly after the TWILIGHT movies and the speedy decent into camp that TRUE BLOOD has become made vampires either laughable or boring. BYZANTIUM shows there's still plenty to explore in the dark realm of vampires.
on September 13, 2013
Finally, a vampire story that explores the paralyzing loneliness that must come with immortality. Something sorely overlooked in the slew of human-vamp love stories flooding the media these days. Great to see themes untouched since the likes of Bram Stoker and Anne Rice, and at the center of it all two strong, determined female leads. The film also boasts impressive, yet never heavy-handed CG. Very satisfying indeed.
Vampires occupy a unique place in our cultural history. Trapped between life and death, they’re often portrayed as the classical romantic character in spite of the fact that they must prey on the living – on consuming human blood – in order to survive. When they love, they love eternally, but circumstances often require them to keep from ‘blessing’ their soulmates with the gift of eternal life (or whatever comes close). Because they’re still so very close to regular folks, they’re often given stories to explore the tragedy of their existence; audiences end up caring for them more often than they fear them, and the fictional yet mortal counterparts they come in contact with often envy them as much as they try to resist their charms.
Simply put, they’re two sides of the human coin, and rarely does a vampire story convey the joy and the pathos of being one as does BYZANTIUM, the new thriller from director Neil Jordan.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
The young Eleanor Webb (played by the increasingly bankable Saoirse Ronan) continues writing her life story in a paper manuscript; and then she throws them away. The reality she lives is one she cannot truly speak about: she’s a vampire, trapped in her teenage body, sharing an existence from one hidden corner to the next with her sensuously depraved mother Clara (Gemma Arterton has never been lovelier!). However, the weight of these past two hundred years has begun to take its toll on Eleanor, and she chooses – against her mother’s wishes – to share her secret with Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), a Leukemia-stricken teen smitten with her young feminine wiles. Will the consequences prove too grave for mother and daughter?
BYZANTIUM is a consistently delight from start to finish, but it’s certainly not your average run-of-the-mill vampire story. Granted, it has teenagers and romance – even welcome hints of undying love – but it’s a far cry from the tweeny TWILIGHT flicks that have filled the multiplexes over the past few years. This is an adult tale exploring the weight of adult consequences … even when that adult happens to be a sixteen-year-old woman experiencing her two hundredth year on Earth.
Part of what elevates BYZANTIUM toward such heights is masterful script adaptation by Moira Buffini (based on her play, “A Vampire Story”). This is a world she’s gone to great lengths to create, giving this particular breed of vampire its own unique origins story (rest assured, it probably won’t be what you’re expecting) as well as a mysterious organization referred to as ‘The Brotherhood’ that works in secrecy in order to keep it all hush-hush. Buffini has crafted two believable female characters – a rarity in today’s films – in the mother/daughter team who are tied together as much by their curse as they are the secrets they keep. Arterton vacillates nicely between keeping her daughter under her control while doing all that she can (including selling herself to men seeking sexual gratification) to provide for her; by contrast, Ronan retreats into the darkness, choosing to spend much of her time alone, exploring her fears, thoughts, dreams, and wishes despite always pining for more.
What veteran director Neil Jordan does is serve up a completely fresh perspective on vampire lore. He does so having previous directed INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, which also had a terrific method of examining these bloodsuckers against the backdrop of personal history. No doubt that’s what drew him to BYZANTIUM, I suspect, but the film never feels like its treading on familiar ground. Rather, there’s a freshness here, much of that due to the fact that these vampires are shackled with a human vulnerability – they actually ‘care’ for one another, and, thus, the tension surrounding their possible monstrous behavior feels only part horror mixed with one part salvation.
Deftly photographed and leisurely told, BYZANTIUM will not be for everyone. However, for those who succumb to its inevitable bit, this is definitely a tale worth telling.
BYZANTIUM (2012) is produced by Demarest Films, Lipsync Productions, Number 9 Films, Parallel Film Productions, WestEnd Films, and IFC Films. DVD distribution is being handled through MPI Media Group. As for the technical specifications, clearly no expense was spared in bringing this moody and atmospheric thriller to life. For those interested in special features, there are a wealth of interviews, focusing on the actors as well as the behind-the-scenes talent that were necessary to serve up this wicked and occasionally bloody story.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. BYZANTIUM is the rarest of horror dramas: it’s a subtle concoction that brews slowly, methodically, weaving its tapestry from the fabric of time. The performances are terrific – Arterton and Ronan continue to deliver on the early promises of their respective careers, and director Jordan works wonders from scenes other leaders would pass over cursorily.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MPI Media Group provided me with a DVD copy of BYZANTIUM by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
on August 26, 2013
Overall, this is an excellent movie and well worth the time and money to watch. In a time of too many vampire movies, in particular Twilight, this was an interesting and unique story. And it really moved away from the dangerous male vampire seducing an innocent girl. There are 2 strong female lead characters. It is very well acted, and I think it moves at a good pace revealing story as it goes. I think at times it might appear slow, because it is building anticipation in the audience for resolution. There is depth to the characters and realistic and interesting interaction/relationships. There aren't clear divisions between good and evil. Characters all fall somewhere in the gray area on the continuum, which really reflects the reality of the human or superhuman condition.
Neil Jordan's latest is a low key voyage into the human side of being a vampire. Mother and daughter team Clara and Eleanor are approaching their 200 year adolescent crisis. Forever 16, moody, creative Eleanor is the polar opposite of her flamboyant mother. The film focuses more on Eleanor who, raised in an orphanage that instilled moral authority is a kinder, gentler vampire. She is tired of being alone, lying to everyone she meets and is ripe for romance. She feeds only on the elderly whose lives have lost meaning and are ready to die. Her mother, sold into prostitution at an early age has a much different attitude toward the world and survival.
I was intrigued by the idea of a feminist plot. While the male vampires are quite upset when Clara "steals" her way into the boys club, that element of the plot is not nearly as fleshed out as the themes of loneliness, aimlessness and the quest for survival. What I liked most about the film was that I witnessed decent acting and character development rather than special effects. Unless you consider a fingernail growing and water turning red to be the epitome of CGI, there are no special effects or horrid transitions using make-up and blood is kept to a minimum. It is set to music which includes nice renditions of Beethoven's Sonata in C Major Op. 2 No. 3, Adagio, and Schubert's Landler D790 No. 4 and Nacht Und Traume, D.827, as well as Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues Op. 87 No. 2 in A Minor. To top off the soundtrack an eerily beautiful version of the Coventry Carol is included.
As they are usually either uninspired or poorly produced, vampire films often need to be graded on a curve. Not so here. Despite minor flaws, Byzantium is undoubtedly one of the Top 10 vamp flicks of the 21st century; its very few peers include Underworld (2003), Perfect Creature (2006), Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), 30 Days Of Night (2007), and Germany's We Are The Night (2010).
Although I wasn't convinced in the first 15 or so minutes, the actors, production values, and most of the story turned out to be top grade. The only point of contention I see is the ending, which is sure to not please everyone (some people thrive on tragedy while others prefer not to be left in a pool of misery; some are not happy with ambiguous endings that don't neatly resolve every plot point).
Looking at the top reviews of those who found fault with Byzantium, I am not seeing reasons I can agree with:
- "Gemma Arterton's trout pout": seriously? A reviewer so fixated on an actor's mouth that it ruined the whole movie? Those lips are the ones she was born with, not a "surgical deformity"; furthermore, her character can be forgiven for pouting through most of the film, as it's no small task for a vamp to smile by default in a life outside of time.
- "It's no Let the Right One In": no it is not, but that's okay since I found that film to be fairly predictable.
- "there's not much blood sucking going on": again, seriously? If I were to time blood sucking incidents between this and most of the universally accepted top vampire films, there would be no less sucking going on in Byzantium (no pun intended). And who said that blood sucking is what makes a vampire film worth watching?
Final comments. It's apparent some viewers won't find a sex worker antihero to be all that relatable, but her endearing daughter was as much the protagonist and should capture your imagination regardless of age. One of the strongest storytelling mechanisms of the vampire genre is an ability to go back in time further than a century to tell a tale of an individual's history (life + undead years), and that wasn't put to waste here.
Undead "life is ironic" best moment: Saoirse Ronan's character watches Dracula: Prince of Darkness in one scene.
Vampire rules in Byzantium are as follows: sunlight is not harmful; eternal life ends by decapitation; to enter a home, an invitation is necessary; to avoid the True Death, following the code of the Brethren (as the name suggests, women are not sought to join the exclusive brotherhood) is required.
on January 13, 2016
A truly underrated gem of a Vampire flick. Highly atmospheric, unusual and poetic, with a fantastic cast and lovely back story. The historical flashbacks are wonderful, and the modern story riveting. Should become with "Only Lovers Left Alive," a classic of the genre. Neil Jordan makes a wonderful second addition to the genre. I love that the author of the story was influenced by the earliest vampire stories; John Polidori's "The Vampire" and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's "Carmilla" both classics of the genre. This makes for an unusual addition to the vampire genre. I even bought this film in spite of the fact that I can watch it for free on Netflix; which was where I found it initially. That is saying something, as I'm on a very limited budget. If you enjoy classic, atmospheric, romantic Vampire stories, you won't be disappointed. About as far from "Twilight," as one could get, btw, not that I didn't find "Twilight" a guilty pleasure, but for a serious Vampire story that is a little more along the lines of the first imaginings of the genre, this is what you want.
A different take on the Vampire Genre. Gemma Arterton and Saorise Ronan put exceptional performances in their roles. Further, I liked the storyline. No turning into bats, a more realistic view of being made immortal.
on February 27, 2016
This feels a lot like Interview with the Vampire for an important reason, this was created by the same director. But this is NOT a story from Anne Rice. All things considered though, this may be a more interesting movie than Interview with the Vampire was, or might even be considered along the same continuity. Its really not that difficult to enjoy the movie with that in mind. But these vampires are very different from the Ricean vampires.
Saoirse Ronan is really touching in this movie, you can see a great deal of potential in this actress in this movie. And the director did well to tap into that potential. Her character's story is quite heart breaking. Gemma Arterton is very good, very multifaceted in this role. Sweet, and brutal. Tired, so very tired of the hell they are living.
This movie is entertaining, don't look for deeper meanings because while you may find it- you're meant to be entertained. Don't lose sight of that. Lose yourself in the story being told in front of you. This is a strong and powerful movie featuring strong, and powerful women. Beautifully done.