Saturday, April 2, 2016

BYZANTIUM movie review by Sean Rourke

BYZANTIUM, now on Netflix

If it happens to be dark outside, and you're looking through your streaming services to find a descent vampire movie, then I highly recommend calling up Netflix and watching Byzantium.

Without spoiling anything, you're in for the story of two female vampires and their tale of survival.  The first is Eleanor, played by Saoirse Ronan, (which, btw, sounds like an awesome vampire name,) and her older sister, Clara, played by Gemma Arterton, (which is an equally impressive vampire name!)

Eleanor is an immortal trapped in the body of a sixteen year old.  She appears to be beholden to Clara, who claims to be her older sister, though the two could not be any more different.  Clara is a devious seductress who seems perpetually drawn to the darker corners of the sex trade.  Her fishnet shirts and high heeled boots contrast sharply with Eleanor, who is a cardigan-wearing, introspective  artist. 

But as the movie progresses, we begin to discover the roots of these two vampires and the complex relationship that holds them together.  All the things that a vampire enthusiast hopes for in a film can be found here, from bloodletting victims in remote corners of the urban sprawl, to flashbacks of the vampires' mortal lives, to fleeting glimpses of the larger tapestry of vampire secrets in the world.

If any of this sounds familiar, that might be because Byzantium is directed by Neil Jordan, who gave us Interview with the Vampire.  But whether you hated or loved his interpretation of Interview, this movie deserves your attention.  What he's done with Byzantium is give us a character study of two vampires that is both rich and bleak at the same time.  The nuances of their relationship are new to the vampire genre, and that doesn't happen often these days. 

And when it comes to vampire tropes, Byzantium rarely takes the easy way out, always giving a slightly new interpretation, while never straying far from what is familiar.  The vampire origin story is especially vivd.

There are some nods to previous vampire works in the naming of certain characters, as well as the casting of Johnny Lee Miller in a minor role.  Miller's pedigree includes the debatably important Dracula 2000, where he portrays a young vampire hunter.  In Byzantium, his character is far different, and surprisingly short on screen time.  (I'm assuming he did this one during a lull in his career, before he took the lead in Elementary.)

Tom Hollander also appears in a small role in Byzantium, who was previously seen hunting Saoirse Ronan in another movie, Hanna.

But ultimately, it's the performances of the two leads that make this film.  Both are haunting and devastating in their own way, with Saoirse channeling a girl desperate to break free of the child that she's been playing for over a hundred years.  Meanwhile, Gemma plays counter to the role that we've grown accustomed to seeing her in: as that of the wise and aloof love interest to the adventuring hero.  In this, she is an unapologetic survivor - damaged, dangerous, and cunning, pulling at any thread she can in order to insure that the two vampires are always one step ahead of their enemies.

For the vampire fan, Byzantium is worth your time.  It's tense, indulgent, sexy, and dark, and it's streaming right now.

By: Sean Rourke