Directed by Neil Jordan and written by Moira Buffini, Byzantium is a dark tale that offers a unique spin on vampire lore and will certainly keep your interest.
Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) and Clara (Gemma Arterton) are on the run, drifting from town to town in an effort to survive and keep hidden. Needing a place to regroup, Clara manages to seduce their way into the guesthouse Byzantium, run by the nervous and lonely Noel (Daniel Mays).
Hoever, these two women are not just travelers — but vampires. And while Clara is content with their current life, Eleanor is lonely and desperate to have her story told. The latter believes she has found a confidant in a teenage boy, Frank (Caleb Jones), but the truth begins to spread and soon Eleanor finds out exactly why Clara doesn’t want anyone to know what they are.
Byzantium is not the modern horror film North America is familiar with. The pacing can be slow and more focused on setting the scene and tone than any truly frightening moments. The horror does not come from the vampire attacks or townsfolk trying to fight against them. Instead, many of the unsettling and disturbing moments come from the leads and their story.
As the film goes on, Eleanor gives accounts of her life 200 years prior, before she became a vampire, and of Clara’s and details what they have done to survive. The conflict between Clara’s lusty nature and preoccupation with the present moment and Eleanor’s attempts at morality and openness drive the film. While it can take a while to get anywhere, the slow buildup pays off well and makes for an excellent character study.
The portrayal of vampires in Byzantium is a feature of note. While the typical weakness of sunlight is never shown to be a factor, the real vulnerability Eleanor and Clara must face is the isolation from the mortal world and others of their kind. To highlight this, Eleanor’s relationship with Frank, although understated, comes off as a need for companionship than romantic attraction.
The transformation process to become a vampire itself is one of the genuinely terrifying parts of the film, especially with the overlying themes of both character’s need to face and accept death.
While Byzantium will not create any great shakes, it is a thoughtful work that discusses death, the need to accept its inevitability and how far humans will go to live on anyway. More importantly, it is about the struggles and isolation two women face while cut off from any semblance of home, and their need to rely on each other despite their differences.
Even as a sometimes disturbingly dark tale of monsters, Byzantium makes for a very human tale.
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