Can I “Permanently” Check Into ‘Byzantium’? (Movie Review)

Byzantium TNI went into my viewing of Byzantium wanting to like it so much because of my love for the can do no wrong actress, in my opinion, Gemma Arterton.   So the truth be told that whenever you do something like that you’re almost guaranteed to set yourself up for failure and utter disappointment (point in case Man of Steel this summer).   And when that doesn’t happen, then by God that’s when you know you just experienced a damn miracle.   No, Byzantium is not the second coming of Christ, but who in their right mind would compare such a revolutionary event like that to a film’s quality (unless we’re talking Fight Club)?  However, if you go into Byzantium with a bloody thirsty seeking of re-experiencing another satisfying tale akin to that of Interview With The Vampire with societal emphasis on themes of brotherhood, okay motherhood, and what it’s really like mentally and socially to live for over two centuries, then I can’t imagine you could ever walk away from this one disappointed.  That’s my story and I’m “staking” to it.

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Obviously I made reference to 1984’s Interview With The Vampire above not because Byzantium is a tale similar to that, although it is, but it’s brought to you by the same visionary director that perfected the vampire formula in cinema, Mr. Neil Jordan.  For those keeping score, Byzantium is actually Mr. Jordan’s third flirtation with that of the undead in cinema.  It’s based on a screenplay beautifully written by Moira Buffini and stars the ever radiant Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan, Sam Riley, Caleb Landry Jones, Daniel Mays and Jonny Lee Miller.   The film saw only a small limited release this year in theaters, but rest easy my weary traveler, the tale is coming to retail shelves near you this October courtesy of IFC Films.

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For those who were unlucky enough to have Byzantium play anywhere near their hometown or municipality this summer and/or are impatient enough to want to wait until October, you’re in luck!   You can experience the blood filled coming of age drama like I did via rental from your favorite digital retailer or your cable’s On Demand channel.  It just so happened that the film kept me company on a recent flight from Austin to San Francisco this past weekend.   And needless to say, I won’t be canceling my Amazon pre-order for this bad boy…or should I say girl?   I look forward to the day when I can revisit Byzantium on the Blu-ray format.  So now…what’s it all about?   I’m glad you asked.   Would you like to come in (I know it’s a bad vampire joke)?

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So before I go into whether or not I liked Byzantium or not…by the way I loved it!  I thought I would preface my review by saying how much I love a good vampire tale of the blood sucking undead.  Now don’t get me wrong, I can play on both sides of the field.  While I enjoy the nonsensical wars between the Lycans and the vampires in the Underwolrd films, as well as Kate Beckinsale’s body clinging black leather outfits, I’m also a sucker for the films that tread delicately on the subject matter and intricately explore what it truly must be like to be undead and believe it or not the hardships of it all, like in Let The Right One InByzantium is definitely the latter with the bonus of Gemma thrown in.  In essence, she only makes this film that much sweeter for me.  I could get diabetes just watching it (I know…bad tasting joke…literally).

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The story of Byzantium, as I kind of alluded to before, is that of a mother and daughter vampire duo.  We saw the whole surrogate vampire parent relationships explored before in films like Underworld and Interview With The Vampire, but what of that of mother and daughter?  I’m sure there are some, but none this weary mind of mine can recently recollect.  So what it must be like to raise a teenage vampire daughter over two centuries is really the essence of the story here.  What happens when you are made?  I mean even if you are a good vampire, you can only be friends or neighbors with someone for so many years before they start to notice hey bubba, why aren’t you growing old, right?  Bingo!  Imagine how hard it must be living life like this as a teenager.  You want to tell someone your secrets to someone so bad, but you can’t.  Now all you moms out there who thought you had it rough…try being a single vampire mom raising a rebellious, teenage vampire daughter.  So not only do you need to constantly reinvent yourself and find new jobs to provide for her, but you got to deal with her raging teenage hormones for two centuries too.  I don’t know about you, but in that scenario being immortal sure sounds like a curse, eh?

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Our story begins with young Eleanor (Ronan) desperately wanting to tell her story through her penmanship…her writings.  The only problem is that she cannot distribute the many manuscripts she creates for people would never understand and just like the government hides UFOs from us, society would freak out if they knew the real truth.  However, through Eleanor we the audience learn quite a lot.  She spills all the beans.  For lack of a better term, she is essentially our narrator on this trip throughout a two hundred year journey as we learn all about her and the ultra compassionate ways in which she kills her food…for the blood.  Without any spoilers, it’s actually quite sincere and endearing in my opinion.  And I’ll leave it at that.

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So where were we?  Oh!  The story!  It’s such an delicate story told through elegant flashbacks that I don’t want to ruin any of the mystique surrounding it so like Walter White in Breaking Bad said to Hank, “If you don’t know who I am, I suggest you tread lightly.”  And that’s what I am doing here.  Let’s just say all your questions of how they became vampires, why they became vampires and every essential piece of backstory you would ever want to know WILL be answered by the movie’s end.  I can at least guarantee you that.  However, I think I can safely spill the beans that Clara’s main profession is that of a woman of the night.  And I don’t mean that because she’s a female vampire, LOL, I mean that because she’s a P-R-O-S-T-I-T-U-T-E.  There I said it!  My favorite actress is a prostitute in this, and she makes a damn good one too.  And rest assured that how she became a prostitute is revealed in the convoluted backstory (more on that subject soon) also.

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So we find our two essential characters on the run and eventually forming a fresh new start as they seek sanctuary in a coastal resort area complete with its own carnival.  How can you not stay here, huh?  Clowns make the world go around.  I’m being facetious…sort of.  Anyway, fate intervenes while Clara is providing her services like only she can to a new client, Noel (Mays), and he spills the beans (I know I used this phrase twice in the same review and for that I am forever sorry) on why he is so lonely and talks about the Byzantium Hotel he has just inherited.  Picture a light bulb going off in Clara’s head.  She formulates a plan.  Oh poor, poor Noel.  Ten minutes later…bingo!  No, Noel did not climax, but instead the vampire family, keeping their secret under wraps, is making themselves comfy in the abandoned hotel.  And it’s not before long that Clara has transformed the Byzantium into a brothel so to speak.  Meanwhile, Eleanor is still that same depressed teenage vampire girl we first met in Act 1.  Things don’t get better for her as she disapproves of the way her mom, Clara, makes money.  What a brat!  Gemma is doing her best!  I mean Clara.  It’s during this pouty time that Eleanor reluctantly falls for Frank (Jones), a waiter who’s quite taken by her.  And this Frank definitely has his way with Eleanor as he gets her to do things she has been resistant to do before…share her stories.  I’m stopping right there.  I already said too much I fear.  You’ll just have to see for yourself where this intertwining two hundred year-old tale goes.

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So I mentioned the word convoluted above and I guess if that’s my only complaint here, then well…that’s not bad at all.  It’s 118-minute runtime can be a bit draining at times (not like how a vampire sucks out all its victim’s blood).  It’s not the quickest pacing you’ve ever seen and it’s not balls-to-the-wall action like Underworld either.  It’s much more inline with Jordan’s earlier work on Interview With The Vampire and the Swedish masterpiece, Let The Right One In.  I mention the pacing only because of all the flashbacks.  However, without them…you would never have all your questions answered.  So you will have to pick your own battles here.  Would you rather watch a straight forward moving narrative or do you mind jumping around in the two hundred year proverbial sandbox?  I prefer my movies to satisfy all my curiosities, don’t you?  If so, then you’re in the right place.  While Byzantium isn’t the perfect movie, I sure hope it remains on my Top 10 list throughout the year.  Right now it’s hovering near the middle, but we still have four more months to go as we battle it out for picture of the year in the upcoming Oscar laden months.  Brace yourselves.  Anything is possible.  And let’s be honest, when you are talking about a film that hasn’t seen much light of day (not another vampire joke) theatrically, being in someone’s Top 10 of the year is quite an accomplishment in my books.  Byzantine is a slow burning journey that I want to take again…maybe even check into the hotel for an extended stay if possible…and re-live all the revealing and blood gushing moments on the Blu-ray format.  Until then…digital retailers and On Demand channels are your friend.  Enjoy!

P.S. The screenshots above are captured from the 1080p iTunes rental.

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Owner/Writer/Reviewer/Editor, Dreamer, Producer, Agent of Love, Film Lover, Writer of Screenplays and a Devoted Apostle to all things Ford Mustangs (the real ones with V8's!). Some of my favorite films include FIGHT CLUB, MOULIN ROUGE, THE DARK KNIGHT, STAR WARS alongside television shows such as SEINFELD, 24, SANFORD & SON and even the often loathed in the geek community BIG BANG THEORY. Outside of my three lives I live I also enjoy spending time with my girlfriend and our three girls (of the furry kind).

3 Responses to “Can I “Permanently” Check Into ‘Byzantium’? (Movie Review)”

  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    I should check this one out!

  2. Brandon Peters

    I really really enjoyed this one as well. Excellence in the reviewing as always.

  3. Gerard Iribe

    Yep, really enjoyed this one, too. It’s like Interview with a Vampire’s cousin. Same tone and visual aesthetic.