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Byzantium (2012)

Cover art:

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Byzantium (2012)Starring Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan, Caleb Landry Jones, Danny Mays, Jonny Lee Miller, Tom Hollander, Sam Riley, Warren Brown

Directed by Neil Jordan


Eighteen years ago director Neil Jordan brought forth the film adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, and now that the world of vampires has been reduced to sparkling, lovesick fiends with horrible Southern accents, Jordan’s latest stab into vampire mythology couldn’t have come at a better time.

The story follows Clara (Arterton), an irrational, self-destructive 200-year-old vampire who works in seedy strip clubs and prostitutes herself in shady amusement parks to support herself and her vampire daughter, Eleanor (Ronan).

Clara and Eleanor are no ordinary vampires. Sunlight doesn’t kill them (thankfully, it doesn’t make them sparkle either) and they don’t have fangs, but rather they have deadly sharp thumbnails that extend whenever they’re ready to feed. Clara feeds on pimps and the scum of the earth, whereas Eleanor acts as an angel of death by preying on elderly people who want an end to their suffering.

When the two run away to a small town after being chased by a group of men that seem to know Clara and Eleanor’s secret for some reason, they settle down in a hotel called ‘Byzantium,’ where Clara opens up a bordello. However, Eleanor is unhappy with her life and is dying to tell or write her stories to anyone who will listen; and when she falls for a young teenager with leukemia (another great performance by newcomer Jones [from The Last Exorcism and Antiviral]), who shares her unbelievable stories with their teacher, Clara must do what it takes to make sure their secret doesn’t get out.

Byzantium is a superior entry in the vampire sub-genre as it is able to provide a great introduction to the history of the vampire through multiple flashbacks. While Jordan uses the traditional aspects of ancient vampire mythology, he makes it his own, combining it seamlessly with the modern world.

The film manages to provide a great mix of melancholy and humor, and it’s the strong performances of both female leads that make it successful. Although Byzantium is a tale about vampires, it primarily deals with the damaging decisions people choose that affect their children and the heartbreaking sacrifices they make in order to keep them safe—and you don’t need to have to drink blood to understand and empathize with that relatable plight.

Overall Byzantium is a beautifully shot film that effectively dissects the mother-daughter relationship in a naturalistic style, while also building to a powerful conclusion. Highly recommended!

4 out of 5

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Serena Whitney

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