Byzantium (2012) has been on my radar for some time now. In part because it looked like an interesting twist on the vampire lore (without throwing in sparkles) and, also, because…well, Gemma Arterton. ‘Nuff said there. Much like Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), we’re seeing a different take on what makes vampires tick. The end result was entertaining and, admittedly, there was more story here than Only Lovers Left Alive, just without the cool appearance of John Hurt.
Our tale is told both in current time as well as through flashbacks interwoven into the story courtesy of a diary that details the background of our primary character, Eleanor Webb (Saoirse Ronan, Hanna, The Grand Budapest Hotel). Our movie begins with her throwing pieces of paper over the balcony of an apartment building only to have them picked up by an old man. When Eleanor comes down to the steps, the man engages her in a conversation that eventually ends up in his home. He is old and ready for death. He has heard tales and knows what she really is. Eleanor proceeds to drink his blood using a talon-like fingernail. Eleanor is a vampire but clearly not out of a novel as she is able to walk in daylight. In fact, these vampires don’t follow most of the rules other than needing to live off human blood. Eleanor chooses to bleed out the elderly and sick. Her mother, Clara (Gemma Arterton, Hansel and Gretal: Witch Hunters, Quantum of Solace) follows a different path.
Clara is a stripper and, as the movie unfolds, has been a prostitute for centuries, doing what she knows best. However, she wasn’t always that way. We see flashbacks that recount how she was forced into it by an evil officer during the Napoleonic Wars. After being pursued by and ultimately killing a mysterious man, Clara and Eleanor are forced to leave their home. They find their way to an old hotel, the Byzantium, after Clara seduces a lonely man who just inherited it. Soon, Clara is running a brothel while Eleanor is falling in love with a young local boy. As the flashbacks continue to reveal, we see how these vampires are actually more of a brotherhood where women are not allowed. Elders of the brotherhood are in pursuit as Clara and Eleanor’s unstable world may soon come crashing down around them.
While there are some elements of romance, the real story here is that of a mother and what she will do to protect and avenge her daughter. Saoirse Ronan was very engaging and believable as a young girl trapped forever in her teenage years. Gemma Arterton uses her sexuality to show both the passion and anger that torment her. The supporting cast does well but the story is really about how different yet similar Clara and Eleanor are. There are some great visuals, including the blood falls (convincingly done by CGI) set across a perpetually gray landscape. Unlike Only Lovers Left Alive, where the music played a key part, nothing really stands out in the soundtrack here. However, the story was engaging enough that I didn’t feel anything was missing.
I’d definitely recommend Byzantium for those of you wanting something a little different from your usual vampire movies. You’ll get some gore to satisfy the bloodlust but it is secondary to the story. Take a look at the trailer and judge for yourself. The movie is readily available to own and rent on home video and streaming.