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Byzantium - DVD Review


Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

NEIL Jordan famously directed Interview With The Vampire 19 years ago but his return to the genre is a very different beast.

Sexy, edgy and suitably Gothic, Byzantium is a vampire film that clearly aims to bring something new to the genre in a post-Twilight world. In doing so, it’s also a strong showcase for its two female leads, whose performances help to paper over some of the film’s flaws.

The story follows Clara (Gemma Arterton) and her daughter Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), two vampires, who have been on the run together from a mysterious organisation known as the Brotherhood for 200 years.

Primary among their pursuers is Darvell (Sam Riley), a vampire who was involved in their creation, whose sudden re-emergence in a contemporary city forces mother and daughter to relocate to a run-down seaside town where Clara persuades a weak-willed man named Noel (Daniel Mays) to let her run a brothel from Byzantium, his failing hotel, while Eleanor befriends a sickly youth, Frank (Caleb Landry Jones).

Jordan’s film has a lot of ideas and innumerable characters and, for the most part, intrigues.

His variations on vampire tradition, such as how they are created and what they use to kill (an extended thumb-nail), are well conceived and help lend the film a unique identity, while his careful character work ensure that both Clara and Eleanor are fully fleshed out creations.

Early on, especially, the film excels in the way that it juxtaposes Clara’s more ruthless inclinations (she kills, and often decapitates, those who deserve it) with Eleanor’s more sympathetic approach (seeking out elderly or sick people who are waiting to die), while also raising the tension surrounding the impending showdown with the Brotherhood.

Yet it over-extends itself with flashbacks and a vast array of characters that it doesn’t always have time to properly honour. Hence, the likes of Daniel Mays and Tom Hollander add star wattage but are given little to do, while even Riley’s arch-rival exists in the shadows for too long. Similarly, flashbacks to Clara’s origins, during which time she crosses paths with Johnny Lee Miller, feel under-developed and don’t allow Miller the sort of screen-time his character warrants.

The finale also promises more than it ultimately delivers, leaving you with a feeling of indifference.

It’s a shame, for there’s also a lot to admire, not least the way in which Jordan manages to re-establish the mystery and danger surrounding the vampire legend as well as the innovations he cleverly employs (working from Moira Buffini’s script).

For all its flaws, therefore, Byzantium remains a fascinating curiosity and a worthwhile addition to what was threatening to become a tiresome genre.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 118mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: September 23, 2013