Almost 20 years after Interview With the Vampire, Neil Jordan explores the vampire mythology once again with Byzantium as he breathes new life into a tired genre. Led by both Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton, this vampire tale is a dark and moody flick with brilliant visuals and just enough of an original spark to make it one of the best vampire films since Let the Right One In. Two mysterious women seek refuge in a run-down coastal resort. Clara meets lonely Noel, who provides shelter in his deserted guesthouse, Byzantium. Schoolgirl Eleanor befriends Frank and tells him their lethal secret. They were born 200 years ago and survive on human blood. As knowledge of their secret spreads, their past catches up on them with deathly consequence.
While Byzantium may not be entirely new to you, it offers just enough of an original idea and story to give itself a unique identity that sets itself apart from other films in the genre. Its measured pacing completely works for the story it’s trying to tell but some may find it a bit too slow for a vampire film. Even at its slowest however, the film is carried so amazingly well by its stars that there’s always something happening on screen worth seeing. There are many stand out scenes throughout the film but Ronan absolutely nails it here. Often times she hardly speaks a word but the pain you see in her bloodless eyes is enough to tell you everything. There’s a particular scene in the film where Ronan explains to her teacher how she will live forever and it’s absolutely brilliant. It was hands down one of my favorite scenes in a film this year. Arterton also does one hell of a job with a dynamic performance that was very surprising. The chemistry between the two actresses was spot on and a real treat to watch.
It’s an elegant film with a Gothic vibe wrapped around it making this one feel like a true vampire film. There are many flash-back scenes throughout that explain the origins of how Clara and Eleanor came to be. With 200 years of back-story to fill in, the film could have easily gotten tangled in itself and became disorienting but Jordan does a masterful job of transitioning from the past to the present. He gives you just enough to tell his story but leaves out just the right amount of details to have you wanting more. It was very surprising and he pulled it off seamlessly.
The film was visually brilliant and the performances were rock solid, but for this being a vampire film there just wasn’t much of a bite to it. There isn’t a ton of violence which was somewhat of a disappointment because the film opens with such gory promise. Despite the lack of violence and scares, Byzantium was a stake to heart of the genre that it desperately needed. Jordan’s work behind the camera was masterful as he told an unsettling tale of two vampires on the run for 200 years. With some truly memorable performances and a few unforgettable scenes, Byzantium is well worth a watch for those who are looking for a solid vampire drama.