I’d like to see Saoirse Ronan (Hanna (2011))and Mia Wasikowska (Stoker (2013)) in a movie together as demented sisters. Throw in Elle Fanning and we could do Lear! Oh, I like that idea. The ladies of the odd names (pronounced sersha rownun), though, have made a serious impression on me. So much so that it took a rain storm to keep me from the dreadful-looking Violet & Daisy (2013), another violent Ronan movie. But then I saw that Ronan was starring in a Neil Jordan vampire movie, Byzantium (2013), and knew that that was something I needed to see. It isn’t in the same universe as Interview with the Vampire (1994), but it did have that same blend of splendor and seriousness.
Eleanor Webb (Saoirse Ronan) writes and rewrites her story, throwing the pages into the wind. She wants to tell her secret, but has been warned not to by her mother, Clara. Clara (Gemma Arterton) is making money as a stripper. One night a man, Werner (Thure Lindhardt), comes looking for her and captures her after a long chase. Eleanor meets an old man who has read some of her story and believes it. He invites her to his home and asks her to kill him. Clara brings Werner back to the apartment (and he follows because he is also after Eleanor). Things go badly for Werner, so Eleanor and Clara are off to relocate themselves as they appear to have done hundreds and hundreds of times before. But this place seems familiar. After two hundred years, the Webb family returns home to this coastal town and take up residence in a disused hotel, Byzantium. There, Eleanor meets Frank (Caleb Landry Jones) and goes to classes while Clara turns Byzantium into a brothel to put together more funds. Meanwhile, a mysterious pair (Sam Riley and Uri Gavriel) are following their bloody tracks.
This may not turn many heads, but Byzantium is one of the most entertaining movies out right now. The violent and occult nature of the story will probably keep its appeal to the fringes of taste. There is some mythology and some odd romance. A cynical viewer may tie Byzantium to a vampire series that shall remain nameless, but I assure you that this is far darker a brood than anything from the imagination of repressed puritanism. It also more attractive and stylish with cinematography from Sean Bobbitt and score by Javier Navarrete.
Most everything I enjoyed a great deal. Ronan’s ice cool performance and Arterton’s fiery malice were excellent counterpoints. The overall story, too, I found very engaging. The one flaw was in the telling of that story. Byzantium is heavy on flashbacks and often repeats the same flashback. It served a purpose, certainly, in revealing the backstory in relevant ways, but it seemed to me a wasted effort. If they thought they had a mystery on their hands, they were incorrect. I was fairly sure of how everything came about for these characters and would have preferred a cleaner telling of the story. Flashback is fine, but Byzantium flashes back through the characters in a dialogue cue or a ‘dream’ sequence. I think telling the stories in parallel might have served them better.
I didn’t have many thoughts on the ways I liked Byzantium and almost didn’t write the review. But I think it’s a really good movie and better than much of the dreck that will come out this summer, so I wanted to give you the heads up. It will please vampire fans a great deal and it will probably please the rest of you. That is unless you’re squeamish about blood. There’s plenty of realistic blood and that can be worse than the stupid amounts of blood in some films.