Review: Byzantium

May 31, 2013
  • Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Byzantium is a vampire film that feels like it was thought up during a brainstorming session at a production studio.

“Come on guys, what’s cool?”

“Erm, realism?”

“Yes! Realism!”

“Vampires with problems at school, and with boyfriends?”

“Just like Twilight! Very good.”

“Faded old seaside towns?”

“Brilliant. We’re making history here, people.”

Things kick off with a chase scene; a stripper who just tried to bite the nose off a (somewhat deserving) client is being pursued across city rooftops by a man who looks like the bloke from the BT commercials.

It ends badly for one of them. The other is Clara (Gemma Arterton), who subsequently insists she and her younger sister, Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), run away to a decrepit beach resort.

The first half an hour feels a little like Chan-wook Park’s recent film Stoker, with a “wait, are they vampires…” thing going on, although you’re never really in too much doubt that, actually, yes, they definitely are vampires.

It plods along enjoyably enough, especially as Eleanor’s morbid fascination with the geriatric wards of hospitals comes to the fore.

The whole thing, though, is brought down by the series of flashbacks that lazily, and increasingly, drive the narrative. Byzantium ends up feeling like an amalgamation of every other vampire movie from the last few years – a hint of Let the Right One In, a bit of Being Human, a sprinkling of the Twilight saga, and relying far too heavily on cliché (shadowy immortal brotherhood: check; cursed island: check).

A thoughtful performance from Ronan is persistently overshadowed by Arterton’s brassy Victorian landlady shtick (in fairness, she doesn’t have a great deal to work with – her character adheres to the “hooker with the heart of gold” trope almost to the letter).

The whole thing has a misty, soft-focus beauty but it’s not enough to save a limp (I’m not going to say toothless – I’m just not going to do it) clichéd horror-drama.

First published in City A.M.