Review of Neil Jordan’s vampire thriller, BYZANTIUM!!!


Yes!  A new vampire film by director Neil Jordan.  He’s the same guy that made INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE.  I liked that one a lot when it first came out.  Besides that, he’s also the man behind some other great films like THE CRYING GAME, MONA LISA, and MICHAEL COLLINS.  I was definitely excited when I heard he had a new vampire flick coming out, but was still a little leery since I haven’t liked some of his more recent films.  He’s also the guy who made the BBC looking production THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, which I think is severely overrated.  So, this one could go either way…..

Clara and her daughter Eleanor are vampires.  Eleanor has been told that they are the only ones of their kind.  But through flashbacks, we learn the truth.  200 years ago, Clara found out about a secret order of vampires and discovered how to become one, by going to a mysterious island that has a cavern full of vampire bats.  Once you enter that, you turn (not from a vampire bite).  But women weren’t supposed to turn to vampires, since it’s supposed to be a “brotherhood”.  I don’t want to get into great detail about this, since I enjoyed discovering how everything unfolded.

So back to the modern part of the story.  Clara and Eleanor have constantly been moving all their lives so they won’t be found by the brotherhood (who wants to kill them).  Since Clara has been a whore all her life, she opens up a brothel at a hotel called Byzantium, to make money.  Eleanor is getting tired of her mother, so she spends most of her time roaming the streets, where she meets a shy boy named Frank.  She likes him, but knows nothing can come of it because of who she is.  Things get crazy once the brotherhood finds Clara and her daughter.

It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t.  I’m just horrible at explaining things.  It’s pretty easy to follow.  There are many flashbacks in this, slowly revealing important things about the characters.  I thought this was a really engaging approach.  Kept me trying to figure out was going on.  Everything makes sense in the end.  Because of how it’s told, the story has sort of an epic feel to it.  Having some of the movie set 200 years ago certainly helps.  Definitely makes it feel like a big story.  But it has an intimate feel.

The movie is told through Eleanor, so we definitely feel her pain.  A great moment early on is when an old man discovers that Eleanor is a vampire and offers himself to her, since he is “ready to die”.  That was a cool scene.  The movie also opens with an attack by one of the vampire brotherhood members.  It’s a great chase scene that ends most violently.    Another thing that works really well is the subtle romance between Frank and Eleanor.  It’s not TWILIGHT. Thank Christ!  This feels real.  You definitely feel a connection between them, and that there will be serious consequences if they do get involved.

This movie is also hauntingly beautiful.  Neil Jordan has created some unforgettable imagery here.  Lots of gorgeous photography.  One powerful image that I can’t get out of my head is one where a set of waterfalls turns red with blood.  Wow!  Every shot is meticulously planned out.  The script may have some plot holes, but I didn’t notice cause I was just so caught up with how beautifully gothic the movie was.  I think this is Jordan’s best film since INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE.  In fact, this is even better.  Those of you who love dark vampire tales…. you’re really going to dig this.

The performances are good all around.  The entire movie is anchored by a terrific performance by Saorise Ronan as Eleanor.  She started off as a child actress, but has grown up into a uniquely beautiful young woman.  She definitely doesn’t look like you typical leading actress, and that’s what makes her all the more intriguing.  She is also turning out to be one of her generations better actresses.  She hits all the right chords as Eleanor.  Gemma Arterton as her mother is also very good.  She’s definitely the least responsible of the two and is a loose cannon.  The character is wild and Gemma is certainly up to challenge of playing such a character.  This is the best work she’s ever done.  Jonny Lee Miller (the main douchebag from HACKERS) is effectively icky as a pedophile vampire.  Caleb Landry Jones is charmingly off beat as Frank.

In a time when Hollywood is delivering bullshit vampire movies like TWILIGHT, I found it exhilarating to see Neil Jordan deliver this ballsy, dark, grim, sexy, violent, gothic vampire flick.  This is what a vampire movie is supposed to be like.  It has a great mythical feel and is loaded with beautiful, haunting imagery.  If you like “good” vampire movies, then you won’t want to miss this.    ★★★½ (out of ★★★★)

– Rated R for bloody violence, sexual content and language.

– Running time: 1hr 58min.


Categories: Austin Kennedy, Reviews

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