I started watching Byzantium with the expectations that it would be a horror, but instead it turned out to not be scary at all. It’s a story that starts off looking like it has all the traits of your usual slow brooding and dark horror movie, but as the story unfolds turns into a much deeper experience, but one that is immensely more rewarding.
Byzantium follows the story of two young vampires, one Eleanor Webb (played by Saorise Ronan) who is trying to come to terms with her existence and deeply wants to be able to share her story and remorse with others, while the other Clara (played by Gemma Arterton) is guided by a different moral compass and is completely at ease with her life of being a vampire. The two are being hunted down by another group of vampires and while on the run, settle in a small town, which through a series of flashbacks and memories, is shown to be a place with a deep history for both of them.
There Clara befriends a man who owns an unused hotel Byzantium, which they turn into their safe haven and residence. Eleanor continues her need to explore and fit in and befriends a sickly young man named Frank (Caleb Landry Jones) who also maintains a passion for writing and the two strike up a strong friendship together. Danger is never too far away though and they continue to be hunted down by the vampire council, while both are also dealing with their identity crises and differing needs. This all threatens not only their relationship, but those of the people around them as well. Over the course of the film their relationship and past that lead them to become vampires is explored and provides context for the predicament that they find themselves in. It is also through these historical snapshots that the mythology and lore of this vampire story is explored.
The film throws a few twists on the traditional vampire mythology, but unlike the Twilight films, actually does a good job at keeping it dark and doesn’t stray too far from the usual model. The cinematography by Sean Bobbitt remains dark and brooding, which is what you would expect from the genre and sets the mood for the film perfectly.
The story written by Moira Buffini, who adapted it from her own play, is well told and an interesting one. The way the story intersects between the present and the past keeps things interesting as you never full understand the origin until closer to the films conclusion which makes the story that much more rewarding. The story never stops developing its characters as well and allows them to grow as the tension gets deeper.
The director Neil Jordan, who is no stranger to vampire films having directed Interview with a Vampire back in 1994 does a stellar job in developing the drama and intersects visuals between the two time settings, sometimes confusing you, but all with the intention of keeping your mind working. The film does stray genres a little, as it has its moments when it tries to be thriller or horror or romance, but never really works at these particular genres. There is a lot of tension throughout the film, it works when it develops naturally and not when it is the result of some jump-scare or horror tactic in play.
The pacing of the film is also a little slow. While the film is certainly a rewarding experience, it takes a long time to settle in and establish itself and you feel if it was just more focused and moved at a faster pace, it might have been more captivating. This is especially true of the many historical scenes which tend to drag out.
The two leads perform incredibly well and draw you into the story well. Their performances are convincing, highlighting the stark differences between both characters suitably. The minor roles are a little disappointing and not nearly as well portrayed, but thankfully the movie stays focused enough on its leads that it never becomes too much of a problem.
The piano driven score by Javier Navarrete is equally quite captivating and does a fantastic job of supporting the story through the different emotions. It can be subtle at times, but then push through to the forefront in the big moments to help emphasis the emotion and tension in the film. Overall it lends to making the story a more emotional one.
Byzantium is a film that mimics its characters. It deceives you at the start from what it truly is, but once you get to experience the whole story, you are rather grateful. If you are a fan of vampire movies, this is definitely one to watch. Its not perfect, but a lot better than many of the recent movies and should do well to dispel films like Twilight from your memory.
Byzantium is out not on DVD.
Last Updated: March 24, 2016