If you wish to go to the current Fangoria site, you may click the top logo, "Home" or "News" links. Or click here.
Neil Jordan’s new vampire film BYZANTIUM takes its name from
the ancient Greco-Roman city that later became Constantinople, known today as
Istanbul, and like the city, its layers are deep and rich.
The “Byzantium” of the movie (a world premiere at the
current Toronto International Film Festival) is the seaside English brothel
where the vampire at the center of the tale, Clara Webb (Gemma Arterton), has
created her base. She’s on the run from an ancient brotherhood of her fellow
immortals, who gave her the dark gift. Its members are a misogynstic lot: They
have a rule that females of their kind can’t create new vampires. But Clara
broke the law: 200 years ago, she initiated her 16-year-old daughter Eleanor (Saoirse
Ronan), and they’ve been on the run ever since. Eleanor, however, is now sick
of hiding. Even more, she resents having spent two centuries as a teenager
under the maternal thumb, and decides to break out.
With this premise as his starting point, Jordan returns to
the vampire genre after 18 years away, and the result is satisfying, somber and
moving. Jordan’s last movie on this subject, 1994’s INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE,
was a lush, historical costume drama; BYZANTIUM, by contrast, is gritty. The
magical and supernatural aspects of Moira Buffini’s screenplay are starker and
more disturbing because everything happens in a recognizable world. Jordan’s
amazing sets veer from lurid nighttime carnivals and glossy shopping malls to
windswept caves and Irish waterfalls.
Indeed, Sean Bobbitt’s nature cinematography and the
accompanying sound design are two of the quieter and more unexpected reasons to
buy a ticket for BYZANTIUM. Waves thunder. Birds scream. And the way Jordan
films them, they’re scary. Every time a vampire is born in the world of
BYZANTIUM, the aforementioned waterfall turns to blood—a combining of
old-fashioned NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC-style camerawork with CGI that becomes more
riveting each time the trope is used. These nature scenes are a bewitching
locus—between the grit of the urban and indoor action that constitutes most of
the film and the director’s more Romantic vision of the meaning of his
Arterton kicks ass as Clara, and Ronan is wonderfully stoic
as the 200-year-old vampire trapped in a teenaged form. Torn between the verge
of reconciliation with her fate and a refusal that itself (like an immortal)
won’t die, she veers hypnotically from anger to calm to love. The object of her
desire is Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), a post-Goth teenaged waiter in
BYZANTIUM’s haunted seaside town. His affection persuades Eleanor that freedom
might be worth seeking. Jones is beautiful and simmering, never pretty, and
always slightly disturbing. The aesthetic in the portrayal is that of the admirable
yet fragile punk boys who seek out vampires in Poppy Z. Brite novels—but now
with a young immortal woman in the role of biter.
On the bite, and fangs: BYZANTIUM will please all lovers of
the vampire genre by virtue of its original thoughts. Buffini, who based this
script on her play A VAMPIRE’S TALE, shone most recently (and darkly) in her
adaptation of Emily Bronte’s gloom with the screenplay for the 2011 remake of
JANE EYRE. In her first horror tale, she and Jordan take away their creatures’
jaguar fangs, giving them talon-like, single-digit ripping fingers instead. A
bloodsucker reaching out for her love or her prey suddenly has new frisson.
Further, BYZANTIUM gives us vampire cinema’s first central mother-daughter duo.
(As if status-quo parent-child conflict in the adolescent context were not
Some will object to the slow parts in BYZANTIUM; others will
raise boring objections to the movie’s use of flashbacks, which explain how the
heroines became vampires. But slow parts give us time to breathe and savor—and
chronological linearity is not what it’s cracked up to be. Jordan meditates in
this film, rethinking his own work in INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, among other
things. As a stand-alone movie, BYZANTIUM works. For those who love good vampire
cinema, the movie is a rapture.
JOIN OUR COMMUNITY AND BE THE FIRST TO KNOW ABOUT NEWS, CONTESTS, EVENTS AND MORE!
All contents © 2011 Fangoria Entertainment