WHAT IS IT?
It’s a vampire movie with Saroiroise Ronanonn and Gemma Arterton. One of them is cool with being a vampire, one of them keeps trying to blow their cover by telling every random person she meets. Not cool. Anyway, Clara (Arterton) is trying to escape her past as the only female vampire of her kind, a wanted criminal on the run from the vampire law, Eleanor (Ronnanannnan) just wants to put down roots and tell everyone about who they really are. They run away from their old town and find a schmuck willing to take them in, they live in a big abandoned hotel, and seem to have lots of connections to this little town they wound up in. Eleanor sort of falls in with a boy, even though he too is lifeless and kind of creepy. True love, eh! What’re you gonna do, you know? As the truth is slowly revealed about their past, the two women struggle to maintain their present-day place in the world.
IS IT SCARY?
In the same way a sheet flapping in the wind on a clothes line is scary. Were you hoping to see a scary vampire movie? Byzantium isn’t scary at all. In fact it’s rather lifeless. Every potentially scary thing is dismantled with lengthy explanations that still don’t seem to convey meaning, and then the killing scenes are predictable. The scariest thing that happens is a beetle crawls across Eleanor’s face at one point, oh, and also the process of becoming a vampire in this world is kind of terrifying, I’ll admit that. There are also rivers of blood and at one point Gemma gets all in them.
WHOA, SAM RILEY IS IN IT? IS SAM RILEY HOT IN IT?
Oh yes, but he’s not in it much. Perhaps I can interest you in some Sam Riley in a suit? Sam Riley was hewn, from an ancient bit of Black Walnut wood, with two little quail eggs for eyes, for the express purpose of wearing suits on this green Earth, and wear them he does. Burberry pays him to do this, and movie studios pay him to do this and by god, at least someone is doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing in this world.
HOW MUCH CLOTHES DOES GEMMA ARTERTON WEAR?
Varying amounts. Sometimes, when she is doing her whoring, she wears very little. The rest of the time she puts on a bit more. But not too much, don’t worry. Gemma Arterton is a particularly tasty bit of pasty, all ribbons and lace and heaving bosoms piled up high. She takes her role as the resident fallen angel very seriously, and is always seducing somebody. She’s very active in this movie too, always running or lunging or pulling or pushing or punching or biting or screaming or thrashing.
IS KIND OF A LOT OF THE MOVIE DEVOTED TO HOW GEMMA ARTERTON’S CHARACTER BECAME A PROSTITUTE?
Yes! But mostly to kind of show what a good and bad mother she was, all at once. No one is one sided! Everyone has positive and negative about them! That is totally, like, a message of one sort or another!
That’s not a question, but she’s growing on me as an actress. She still relies far too much on staring as a means of conveying emotion, but as a winsome, damaged little flip of a thing, she’s pretty good in this. On the other hand, it doesn’t really require much effort, so perhaps congratulations are premature.
ARE THERE COMPLEX THEMES EXPLORING HUMAN SEXUALITY, ONE’S PLACE IN THE WORLD OR MALE/FEMALE POWER DYNAMICS?
Oh my, no, not really. These themes are passed over briefly but never dwelled upon. We are privy to the thoughts of Eleanor as she contemplates the sadness that has stayed with her for 200 years, the really bummer situation that is being a vampire who ain’t got nobody to talk to. The men in this movie are a waste of space, weak-willed or violently aggressive, there’s a few who are good, but one of them comes across like someone you shouldn’t trust anyway, and the other one is a vampire who is hunting them down and did one nice thing one time, basically. The story being told across two different time periods works fine, I suppose. Mostly it just doesn’t matter.
IS THERE ANYTHING MEMORABLE AT ALL?
At one point a beetle crawls on Eleanor’s face and I got the feeling it was a real beetle and my skin crawled.
Other than that, no. The writing isn’t particularly strong, the performances are hampered by a bad script and lackluster direction, the rest of the movie doesn’t stand out as anything exceptional either. I always hope for a few scenes of absolute beauty so I can at least give a shout out to some excellent cinematography, but there just isn’t anything worth looking at in this, other than Gemma Arterton’s snappy garters.
WOULD I LIKE THIS MOVIE?
If you like vampire movies, no matter how weakly drawn. If you like any of the actors in it enough to go see a movie they are in, then yes.
YOU JUST HATE EVERYTHING, YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING! SHOULDN’T WE SUPPORT ORIGINAL CONTENT OVER SEQUELS?
Yes, dangit, I wanted this one to be good, I wanted it to be bone-chilling and frightening and fascinating and captivating. It’s based on a play by Moira Buffini, and yes, some of the elements would probably work much better in a theater setting. Byzantium stumbles a bit in the story, the stakes aren’t high enough and it doesn’t seem to bother with any of the problems it sets up for itself. I loved the idea of two women roaming the globe together, mother and daughter relationship melting into a deep-seated sisterly affection, sexy, warm and open at times and heart-stoppingly fearful of the past at other times. The potential was all there, and still it failed. Director Neil Jordan, who’s made a bunch of movies with varying degrees of success, should know better. It isn’t enough to make a thing, you have to make a new thing that knows what it wants to say and why it’s even there saying it. Byzantium was silent on all fronts, pre-occupied with the business of existing, and too all-consumed with minutiae to bother with being relevant or incendiary.
Amanda Mae Meyncke lives in a cigar box and has a thimble for a hat.