Tribeca Review: "Byzantium"

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A vampire fantasy thriller starring Gemma Arterton & Saoirse Ronan as a pair of mysterious women who move into a run-down seaside town. Clara (Arterton) quickly secures shelter for them in the dilapidated Byzantium Hotel, while Eleanor (Ronan) finds solace in the companionship of a local boy. The bond proves dangerous however, as she mistakenly deems him trustworthy and reveals the truth of who she is and how she survives. As Clara and Eleanor become more exposed, the body count begins to rise, resulting in a wild hunt for blood.
2.5

There are a number of interesting parts to Neil Jordan’s “Byzantium“, his first foray into vampire cinema since 1994’s adaptation of Anne Rice’s “Interview with a Vampire.” The film looks great, has parts that seem to want to examine the roles of women in the vampire community, and has other parts that are gripping human-to-vampire conversion fiction, but what seems to come out of it mostly is a moody feeling of blah.

Saoirse Ronan (“Hanna”, “The Host”) plays Eleanor Webb, a 200+ year old vampire who has been forced to hide her feelings and thoughts ever since her mother Clara (Gemma Arterton, “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters”) turned her all those many years ago. Eleanor continues to be the 16-year-old girl she was, while Clara was forced into being a whore before she was turned and the occupation seems to have stuck as she continues to work in brothels and strip clubs.

Both are two different people. Eleanor enjoys a life of solitude and prefers to not forget the past while her mother wishes to just forget and concentrate on being the mother and provider, in which she utilizes either sex or death to get what she wants. When the two are forced to go on the run when an unknown group begins chasing them, they convince a good-natured but hapless yutz (Daniel Mays) to let them stay at his mother’s hotel/boarding house. Clara sees the potential for the place immediately, and decides to turn some girls into whores and her the den mother.

Ronan has some very chilling scenes here and she plays her character well but overall Eleanor’s crisis of conscience isn’t enough to make a film out of. Eleanor is so sorry for what she is that she only blood sucks old people and even then, tries to be comforting about it. Her past is always more interesting than her present which robs the film of any forward momentum (a dull love story she has with a sick kid played by Caleb Landry Jones doesn’t help) and leads to a laboriously slow pace. We look to the sexier, and far more fun Clara to add some sex-tinged life to this thing but the brothel storyline is just here so Eleanor can judge her mother’s choices, and then is left minimized the rest of the time.

Flashbacks are much more interesting as it’s revealed how these women were turned, the abusive mid-shipman (Jonny Lee Miller) who ruined their lives, his partner (Sam Riley) who saved them, and the politics of the “boys club” vampire group who forced them into a life of running.

The look of this film is great too, from the dirty colors and neon lights of the brothels to waterfalls that literally rain blood to a swarm of bats that encircle a mountain, visually this thing is pretty entertaining.

But it’s getting to the point now where you doubt that any new ground can really be broken in the vampire genre and “Byzantium” doesn’t do much to change that way of thinking. But it also doesn’t do much to prove that there is still anything to get excited about either.

2.5 out of 5 Stars