Visually enticing vampire tale needs sharper bite

Photo by Christopher Raphael, courtesy of IFC Films Clara, holed up in a seaside hotel, has certain standards when it comes to acquiring food.

Photo by Christopher Raphael, courtesy of IFC Films
Clara, holed up in a seaside hotel, has certain standards when it comes to acquiring food.

Schmaltz dilutes a potentially bloody good time

jordanBY STEPHANIE BUHMANN | The British-Irish fantasy thriller “Byzantium” tells the story of Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) — who, with her mother Clara (Gemma Arterton), forms a tight-knit vampire duo. They are both two centuries old, yet look not a day older than 16 and 35 (Clara had Eleanor young while working as a prostitute). Both survive on human blood, but each has their own almost endearing code of ethics for how to acquire food. Whereas Eleanor feeds only on the elderly, who express that they are ready to die anyway, Clara mainly kills the mean male abusers of this world (one scene shows her feasting on a street pimp).

However, as we have learned in many a vampire movie before, eternal life is no pony farm. In fact, it is a tormenting existence for the sensitive — and so we meet kind Eleanor, as she is getting eager to share the truth of her identity and her complete story with someone special. The latter appears in the form of Frank, in a little run-down coastal resort where the women have taken temporary refuge. Frank is a sensitive red-haired boy who, while developing a quick crush on Eleanor, is also battling terminal cancer. The secret he discovers through her is one the audience learns about in bits and pieces throughout the film — involving kidnapping, forced prostitution, an orphanage and prosecution (as well as a mysterious shrine on a deserted island which holds the secret of eternal life).

Directed by Neil Jordan (of “Interview with the Vampire” and “The Crying Game” fame), “Byzantium” makes for a visually enticing adventure. However, the film falls short, unable to overcome the many injections of schmaltz in its storyline. The biggest problem is its indecisive tone. Moments of serious emotions become overshadowed, and at times are even made ridiculous, by aesthetic kitsch (Frank has an accident and a hand wound turns into a gushing fountain of what looks like strawberry syrup). Some of it is straight up camp (Clara, a passionate seductress, could easily have table-danced in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” or “From Dusk Till Dawn”). Singularly, none of these directions would make for a weak movie — but scrambled together, one finds “Byzantium” to be neither here nor there. Soon enough we face Eleanor, a fair and often melodramatically wide-eyed loner, with exasperation rather than compassion. At the crux of the film, it is hard to still care who will or will not live for eternity.

 

BY STEPHANIE BUHMANN | The British-Irish fantasy thriller “Byzantium” tells the story of  Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) — who, with her mother Clara (Gemma Arterton), forms a tight-knit vampire duo. They are both two centuries old, yet look not a day older than 16 and 35 (Clara had Eleanor young while working as a prostitute). Both survive on human blood, but each has their own almost endearing code of ethics for how to acquire food. Whereas Eleanor feeds only on the elderly, who express that they are ready to die anyway, Clara mainly kills the mean male abusers of this world (one scene shows her feasting on a street pimp).

However, as we have learned in many a vampire movie before, eternal life is no pony farm. In fact, it is a tormenting existence for the sensitive — and so we meet kind Eleanor, as she is getting eager to share the truth of her identity and her complete story with someone special. The latter appears in the form of Frank, in a little run-down coastal resort where the women have taken temporary refuge. Frank is a sensitive red-haired boy who, while developing a quick crush on Eleanor, is also battling terminal cancer. The secret he discovers through her is one the audience learns about in bits and pieces throughout the film — involving kidnapping, forced prostitution, an orphanage and prosecution (as well as a mysterious shrine on a deserted island which holds the secret of eternal life).

Directed by Neil Jordan (of “Interview with the Vampire” and “The Crying Game” fame), “Byzantium” makes for a visually enticing adventure. However, the film falls short, unable to overcome the many injections of schmaltz in its storyline. The biggest problem is its indecisive tone. Moments of serious emotions become overshadowed, and at times are even made ridiculous, by aesthetic kitsch (Frank has an accident and a hand wound turns into a gushing fountain of what looks like strawberry syrup). Some of it is straight up camp (Clara, a passionate seductress, could easily have table-danced in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” or “From Dusk Till Dawn”). Singularly, none of these directions would make for a weak movie — but scrambled together, one finds “Byzantium” to be neither here nor there. Soon enough we face Eleanor, a fair and often melodramatically wide-eyed loner, with exasperation rather than compassion. At the crux of the film, it is hard to still care who will or will not live for eternity.

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