Directed by: Neil Jordan
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton and Sam Riley
Running time: 118 min
Eleanor (Ronan) hides a dark secret about herself. Hunted by people after her and her mother Clara (Arterton), the two are forced to pack up and move, finding themselves on the coast where they move in with Noel (Daniel Mays), a down and out loner who has recently inherited a run-down motel called The Byzantium. While Clara works to keep them hidden from those searching for them, Eleanor meets Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), a free thinking teenager who inspires her to start writing her story, a story over 200 years old which reveals their true nature as sucreants, creatures that drink the blood of the living to survive.
Byzantium is at its heart a vampire movie; they drink the blood of the living to survive but refreshingly there are few of the typical vampire conventions like having fangs to drain their victims with or having super-human strength or abilities. They cannot make someone into a vampire simply by having them feed on their own blood and there is only one way to give someone eternal life. This is a far more metaphorical story than you would expect, but it’s all the better for it.
This is a graphically old-fashioned and literally bloody take on the subject of vampirism, where necks aren’t just pierced but are splayed open; blood sprays from arteries instead of merely dripping from them, though it’s not done for shock effect, it’s a matter of fact and just a (at times unwanted) part of the world they belong to. There are sequences set at a waterfall during which the waterfall turns to blood and characters bathe in it for example, in an almost orgasmic event that is both disturbing and yet at the same time mesmerising, it’s like something out of an older eastern horror that you would rarely find in a modern vampire movie of today.
Director Neil Jordan delivers one of the best character-driven vampire movies since his other genre movie Interview With The Vampire, focusing on the elements of drama and horror – but not the lazy crash-bang-wallop horror of today’s cinema. Byzantium is a refreshing take on a very tired subject, the alternative vampire movie, undoubtedly due to the two strong female leads and great writing where their characters are concerned. As events in their past are revealed, you learn they are more complex than first impressions might suggest, just like this movie, which was sadly overlooked upon its cinema release and deserves to be seen. One of the year’s best.