BYZANTIUM is a stunningly well-made horror film, criminally overlooked on its limited release in 2012. Directed by Neil Jordan, with a screenplay by Moira Buffini (Tamara Drewe, The Dig), it stars Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton as a daughter & mother pair of vampires, cursed by their past, struggling with their present, uncertain of their future. Beautifully handled in all respects, it deserves a crypt of honor in its undying genre.
“We are the pointed nails of justice.”
‘Clara Webb’ (Arterton) and her teenage daughter ‘Eleanor’ (Ronan) lead lonely lives as vampires, led into the eternal half-life two centuries back by evil men, a brotherhood that pursues them from place to place through the years, Clara having broken the brethren’s ancient code. Finding refuge in a run-down coastal resort hotel, Clara beguiles the patsy owner while Eleanor befriends sickly student ‘Frank’ (Caleb Landry Jones), risking exposing their secret. Their ever-present past bodes ill.
Neil Jordan favors directing projects that focus on loners and survivors: Mona Lisa, The Crying Game, Interview With A Vampire, The Brave One, Ondine. This unsung intimate epic is one of his best. Made for around $10,500,000, it grossed a mere $828,284 worldwide. Devoted hordes flocked to the 5th Twilight gibberish, unaware they could have been bitten by something easily smarter, more elegant, much richer.
Thanks to the script and players, this is one vampire story where you actually care about the eternally afflicted and condemned characters; given dimension to their personalities, they’re rather more relatable than haughty aristocratic Counts, perverse seducers in decaying medieval castles. Relationships are key: how mother and daughter interact (co-dependent, resentful, devoted), how they manage dealing with those who want to be close to them, how they approach their victims, who’s pursuing them and why. The attention-riveting actresses play off one another flawlessly, the supporting players are keenly picked, the villains properly despicable, the production design gorgeous. Fresh, intelligent and exciting, lush and sexy, startling and tragic, ultimately even hopeful. High marks all round.
The atmosphere enhancing score, eerie, mournful and seductive, is from Javier Navarrete, the excellent cinematography the handiwork of Sean Bobbitt. With Daniel Mays, Tom Hollander, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Thure Lindhardt, Uri Gavriel (extra spooky), Barry Cassin. 118 minutes.