From the director of The Crying Game comes Byzantium, an artful riff on the familiar vampire tale. Quiet, restrained and bleakly beautiful, this is no Nosferatu, nor An Interview with a Vampire (an earlier film also directed by Neil Jordan).
Part of the pleasure of Byzantium comes from the variations on the theme. The tension between mortality and timelessness is front and centre with Eleanor and Clara. They are mother and daughter, born centuries ago but frozen at the age when they were turned. Though they pose as sisters, they couldn't be further apart.
Jordan favourite Gemma Arterton plays Clara, a strong, outgoing woman who sells herself to put bread on the table. Much quieter is Eleanor, portrayed by a copper-haired Saoirse Ronan. A pensive soul doomed to be a melodramatic 16-year-old forever, Eleanor pens her story on scraps that she tosses to the wind — that is until the day she discovers a worthy confidant. Antiviral's Caleb Landry Jones is her perfect counterpoint: Frank, a leukemia patient who has an intimate knowledge of the tenuous nature of life.
As events rush towards the conclusion, Jordan ramps up the tempo, mingling the past with the present as Eleanor shares her bloody origins with Frank. Compared to the ruffled shirts and velvet cloaks that usually cloak vampire stories, Byzantium is dark, brooding and almost noir. Much of it takes place in the English seaside town of Hastings, with Jordan mixing time periods as his camera weaves between boats on the wharf.
Ultimately, Byzantium boils down to a tale of two women: one desperate to share her story and another terrified of a shadowy brotherhood closing in. With a bittersweet bite, it's a tale worth watching.
RATING: 4 out of 5
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