The nomadic and mysterious mother and daughter team of Clara and Eleanor find a secluded town in which to settle and start a hopeful, if only temporary, new life. As the young Eleanor seeks to meet people and share her past aloud, Clara seeks a secretive, fiercely independent existence. The two clash with one another, while trying to avoid their pursuers. Also, they are something like two hundred-years-old, and drink blood.
The ever-rising and immensely talented Saoirse Ronan shares the screen with the very sexy and captivating Gemma Arterton, as the two play daughter and mother respectively.
Vampires, blood, and sex, oh my! Byzantium may not be something that is all that novel – it’s also an origin story, in a way, and based off a play– but it’s executed deftly, and may even fill you with a renewed sense of hope for this genre.
Rarely though, is the word ‘vampire’ uttered in this film that is more a dark family drama, more an atmospheric sexy thriller, than a story simply about bloodsuckers. We meet Clara and Eleanor in very different scenarios as the film opens, whereas one is feeding her curiosities with the outside world, and the other is hastily running away from a very determined man. It’s rather strange, in more ways than one, not only because of the questions raised about why Clara is being chased, or why she is able to fall through a skylight without getting hurt, but also because this loud and fast-paced prologue yields to quiet tension.
The chase ends bloodily and shockingly, a scene meant to put the viewer at bay, almost as if director Neil Jordan is telling you that he is in control, and this is not exactly what you might expect. It is, if nothing else rather unpredictable – save for the presence of blood, which runs vicious and crimson across a screen filled with blacks and greys.
Conflict soon erupts not between predator and prey, but between mother and daughter. Eleanor is a storyteller, and someone as much as anyone her age (late teens), wants someone with whom to share her experiences and past. Unlike her guarded, domineering mother (she takes to running a particular business in order to make money), Eleanor is not yet jaded by the world; she does not yet look at it with a cynical eye. When at first she has no one to talk to, she pens letters; when she finds someone she wants to trust, she reveals her stories. In both ways, she is telling the audience everything she knows to be true.
There are reasons of course why Clara is so protective, as the modern day story flashes back in time, revealing an even darker, sordid, bloody past. You may not necessarily take a liking to either of the main characters, but both are compelling, and the respective actresses are perfectly eerie and emotionally evocative. Arterton’s pitch black hair clashes against her pearl skin, while Ronan too looks someone hiding in the shadows.
Ultimately, Byzantium isa steamy, bloody, gothic vampire flick, but refreshing and different. A hectic finale echoes the frantic beginning, but it’s the tense middle that makes this something more special.
Should You See It?
It’s unlike anything in theatres now, and that’s not just because it’s smart and layered.
“You can’t throw the past away as if it didn’t happen. “