Movie Review: Byzantium (2012)


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Residents of a coastal town learn, with deathly consequences, the secret shared by the two mysterious women who have sought shelter at a local resort.

Director: Neil Jordan
Writer: Moira Buffini (play)
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Sam Riley, Jonny Lee Miller

Director Neil Jordan knows a little something about directing great films. His second film was the highly underrated  “The Company of Wolves” from 1984. He went on to direct the controversial “The Crying Game,” the amazing Anne Rice adaptation “Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles,” and “In Dreams,” one of my guilty pleasures as just a few of his top films. With his release of “Byzantium,” Jordan comes back to the vampire world, which is very exciting to those of us who were in love with “Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles.” That film was scary to me as Anne Rice is a brilliant author and “Interview With the Vampire” is one of her best books.

Written as a play by Moira Buffini (Jane Eyre), “Byzantium” was doomed for failure from the outset. It opened on a mere six screens on its opening weekend and made $15,000. In its brief theatrical run, if you can even call it that, it was shown on thirteen screens at its highest point. It never broke $1 million in its theatrical run, which was well below its $13 million budget. The root cause of its failure has to do with the poor marketing job done with the film. It was labeled as a horror film filled with scares, but “Byzantium” is by no means a horror film. It plays off as a thriller/drama from the opening scene to the ending credits.

In the flooded genre of vampire films, “Byzantium’s” story gives us a breath of fresh air in what has otherwise been overdone. The only recent films of note that play off like “Byzantium” would be Park Chan-wook’s “Thirst” and Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In,” both of which are outstanding films.

Running nearly two hours, “Byzantium” is slow, at times too slow, but is a beautifully shot piece that should be experienced by all. The use of vivid colors and magnificent backdrops are mesmerizing at times. But, as hypnotic as the scenes are, they would fall flat if not for some outstanding roles played by leads Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton. Ronan (The Lovely Bones) is simply outstanding as a vampire burning to tell her tale. She logs her journey often, but lets her tales fly away into the sea knowing that she cannot reveal her dark secret. Her future looks brighter with each performance.

Gemma Arterton Byzantium

The often-criticized Gemma Arterton (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) turns in her best performance to date as Clara, Eleanor’s mother. Her hypnotic beauty is enhanced by the mesmerizing backdrops, but her acting is top notch in this role. While not the most innocent of characters, she does what she feels she needs to in order to take care of her child. The fractured relationship between the two is apparent throughout the film because of Clara’s choice of careers.

I am not a reviewer that likes to tell the entire film, nor am I one that spoils movies. I feel that I can offer an opinion of a film that will sway someone into watching (or not watching) a film. What I can tell you is that, if you are looking for exquisite direction alongside an excellent story and magnetic performances, look no further than Neil Jordan’s “Byzantium.”

Gemma Arterton