Director: Neil Jordan
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan, Sam Reilly, Jonny Lee Miller, Caleb Landry Jones, Daniel Mays.
Written by: (and based on her play The Vampire Tale) Moira Buffini
Running Time: 118 mins
Release date: 31st May 2013
Neil Jordan is one of my favourite directors. Ever since seeing his debut Angel way back in 1982, he has produced some terrific films, including The Company Of Wolves, Mona Lisa, The Crying Game and Breakfast On Pluto. So to see he was returning to the vampire genre after the stylistic Interview With The Vampire, I couldn’t have been more excited. However, now seeing Byzantium, I am glad he is back making movies (after hiding away behind The Borgias for television) but it wasn’t the amazing movie experience that I was after.
Eleanor is a troubled teenage girl. She isn’t happy in her life because she is immortal, a vampire on the run with her 200 year old mother, Clara. After Clara causes another reason for moving to another town, they end up in a sleepy seaside resort where Clara meets Noel, a man who owns a run-down guest house. Taking charge and turning it into a brothel, Eleanor’s life is made more complicated when she meets Frank, a young man living in the town and she finds herself getting closer to him. Always writing about her past but never showing anyone, she places her history on paper for Frank to see. What Clara and Eleanor doesn’t know is that their past is hunting for them and getting closer.
Jordan’s film is full of class and, as you would expect, style. The visuals are beautiful to look at, from the neon lit streets of the resort to the island of waterfalls that flow blood. It also takes the vampire tale and gives it a new lease of life. After the somewhat drab handling of the blood suckers that the Twilight films offered, here we have a unique take, without the fangs but an incredibly sharp fingernail that grows when the need to drink is required and a quick puncture to the veins is all it takes.
It also owes much more to the Hammer horrors of the 60s and 70s then anything from modern times. With plenty of Gothic feeling and cleavages abound, it does suffer from being incredibly slow. It takes a long time to really get going and when it does, it becomes far more interesting, especially when Eleanor starts recalling her past and how both she and Clara became the hunters of blood. This is one of the winning parts of the film. The other is the performances. Everyone handles the material well, from Sam Reilly’s vampire hunter, Darvell, to Jonny Lee Miller’s crazed Ruthven.
The film belongs to the two female leads. As Eleanor, Saoirse Ronan is the go-to girl for troubled, dark female characters. As she has shown in other films, she is an outstanding actress with amazing blue eyes that hold so many secrets. It is another brooding performance and will certainly help her get more screen work. The real revelation is Gemma Arterton. Using all her sexuality, she oozes erotic control as the matriarchal Clara. She often is given parts where she has use her sexual persona but never has it been put into the right role. She is also really good, managing to mix that sexually charged personality with a darker and more evil side.
The problem with the film is that the pacing is very uneven and some of the dialogue is a little, shall we say, overblown and theatrical (it was a play in the beginning) and I guess that my expectations were so high that I was always going to be disappointed. It’s a pity because Jordan is a very skilled director but the material just wasn’t there for the taking. A brave attempt to change the way we look at vampires and after the Twilight saga but it’s far too slow moving. A pity.