2012. Directed by Neil Jordan
Neil Jordan (Interview With the Vampire, The Crying Game) returns to the vampire genre with a tender, ultra-violent, adult fantasy film, Byzantium.
Clara (played by Gemma Arterton) and her daughter Eleanor (played by Saoirse Ronan) are two vampires on the run from The Brethren, a society of male vampires that seeks to exterminate them for their very existence. Clara makes money working in brothels and strip clubs while seeking out fresh victims, while the loner Eleanor seeks out lost souls to devour.
The vampires use razor sharp fingernails in place of fangs, and it's the immediate presentation of a unique kill method that signifies to the viewer they are going to experience something unique. The method by which the vampires are made is one of the most creative ideas ever proffered in vampire cinema.
The interesting part of the narrative is how it deals with love. There's familial love between the two leads as well as Eleanor finding love while Clara ruminates on lost love. The film is about beginnings and endings, or more specifically transformations. The film weaves the present with the past together in a bloody lullaby that while predictable, is still solid and organic in its progression.
If Interview With the Vampire was a high opera, Byzantium is a red light district soap. It's a dirty film, with ugly red and black color filling every corner of the screen. Sean Bobitt's lens has a vicious knack for showing the beauty of decaying cities and their lonely denizens.
This film is like being stuck in a downpour with a broken umbrella. The vampires are the deluge, inhabiting every single scene in the film. You're holding your breath waiting for the film's melancholic barrage to let up and it never does. It only double downs on it's neo-gothic tone.
One of the most interesting exchanges in the film is an argument between Arterton and Ronan's mother and daughter that plums the core of parental sacrifice and selfishness. It was such a unique choice to showcase parent child struggles in the context of a vampire film where the subjects will never age, but do evolve.
At a glance the film is a post-feminist empowerment statement, but Jordan is also interested the cycles of family life and it's seen in the film's conclusion as new families are created and old ones are reestablished.
Byzantium is an extravaganza of moody storytelling that deconstructs the vampire morality play and offers the audience a raw, emotional story about the problems that every family has, albeit with much less blood involved...usually...