BYZANTIUM Movie Review
Before I dig in to the real meat of the review, a brief disclaimer: If there are vampires in it, I will watch it. I’ve seen the Twilight movies, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (tv show and movie), Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned and of course, Interview with a Vampire. The genre as a whole is fascinating to me – what vampires can represent, what allegories can be drawn from them, and of course the escapist quality throughout. Byzantium is definitely above average for the genre as of late, but falls short of being a great film.
Following a mother-daughter pair as they drift through this immortal life, we get a glimpse into two very different ideological ways of looking at their situation as not only vampires, but women as well. Through some non-linear storytelling with flashbacks, we’re piece-mealed out the story of Clara (Gemma Arterton) and her daughter Eleanor (Saorise Ronan). Clara was forced into prostitution and sees her body as the only way to provide for herself and family. Even when presented with a modern man who’s willing to take care of her, her first thought is to set up a whorehouse so they can make more money and live a more lavish lifestyle. Eleanor, though she’s her daughter, was raised in a convent and doesn’t partake in any of these scandalous activities. Instead, she’s more the mothering type. She doesn’t like the fact that she needs to take lives in order to sustain her own and instead of preying upon the young men she could attract, she opts to put the elderly out of their misery, vampiric euthanasia if you will.
While it addresses interesting themes, Byzantium was just too slow and dull. The beginning especially didn’t grab me and the film doesn’t really let the audience learn anything or see anything of substance happen in the entire first third of the film. The scenes just seemed to float on without having a point or purpose. It wasn’t until Clara set up shop and Eleanor met a local boy (both in the present day) that there was momentum in the storytelling.
Despite the narrative wheelspinning, there’s a lot to like in the film. The gorgeous landscapes and brilliant coloring make every image stand out and could be a still framed in an art gallery. Both actresses are fantastic in their roles, capturing their strength as vampires and how they use their vulnerabilities even to their advantage at times.
Byzantium is a solid exploration into the vampire world with a decidedly feminist twist, I just wish the story had been more engaging to capture interest earlier. By the time it gets in to the themes and meaty story-arch, I worry many will have already tuned out.