31 Days of Reviews: Byzantium (2012)

A female vampire duo escapes to a small British town while on the run for crimes unknown. Their secret is just waiting to be told.

Byzantium is one of those films that I’ve seen plenty of pictures of and heard plenty of wonderful things about, but I’ve never taken the time to watch it. Now that I have taken the time, I’m pretty glad that I did.

This film is directed by Neil Jordan, known in the world of vampire films for Interview with a Vampire. His return to the vampire film through Byzantium caused a lot of excitement amongst enthusiasts of the genre. Jordan said himself at one point that he hoped to bring life back into the vampire film through this movie, and there are many who would say he succeeded. Byzantium definitely has a way of separating itself from the Twilight saga which was still ongoing at the time, while simultaneously being reminiscent of Let the Right One In.

There is a very somber mood throughout this film. In many ways, it reminded me of the seductive charm seen in classic American vampire films. The cinematography is beautiful. There are some really fabulously framed shots, and a lot of the action just seems to glide in and out, sort of like a fantasy. It’s very fitting for the subject matter. The music used in the film is pretty fantastic as well. It can make you feel the emotions that run through the main characters, while also reminding you that they cannot be completely trusted. There were moments where the music gave me chills.

As for the story, I did feel that it was lacking something. Maybe it took too long to reveal the end game, and that’s what made it seem like it dragged. The film is almost 2 hours long after all. I was so in love with the atmosphere, however, that I didn’t mind this fact while watching.

The vampire duo in Byzantium consists of Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan). I thought that both of them did a wonderful job, playing characters that successfully seemed much older than their faces would suggest. I’m not savvy enough in the area of vampire films to know if this is edgy or not, but I did find it interesting that it was the younger vampire in the duo who had the biggest problem with their situation. While Eleanor (Ronan) is the daughter, perpetually 16, she is definitely more of a recluse, with her own moral code which doesn’t allow her to drink blood from anyone who doesn’t ask her to. On the other hand, Clara (Arterton) is her mother, and she is far more of a social bug, using her charms and skills to make money in a profession that is older than she is. Clara has a code she abides by as well, but though she means well, she’s definitely the more sinister vampire of the bunch.

I found that it was beautifully tragic at times when their opposite personalities were juxtaposed. I thought that their relationship was the most compelling, and at the same time the most volatile. It’s also interesting to note that Clara, although older, seems to have adapted to modern times better than her younger daughter.

There is a secondary love story present in Byzantium as well, one that is similar to Let the Right One In. Eleanor meets a boy named Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), and the two of them bond over their similar angst. While many find their story to be the best part of this film, I still see it as a secondary story. It is sweet, I’ll admit. Although I’m never a huge fan of relationships that progress so much in such a short time for films.

Byzantium is a vampire film, so it does have its share of violence, mainly at the hands of Clara. There is a backstory in the film which is mostly told through Eleanor’s memories which she writes every day before throwing them to the wind. When the end game is finally realized, I was pretty satisfied with the result, although I definitely would have been happy with more.

This film is definitely visually stunning, and it has a good classic atmosphere to it. I would recommend it, if only just for the visuals. Byzantium is currently available on Netflix streaming.


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