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John’s Horror Corner: Byzantium (2012), bringing a fresh, intelligent perspective to the secret lives of vampires

April 16, 2014

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MY CALL: An intelligent, superbly acted vampire story, serenely-scored and with a more realistic, fresh perspective. MOVIES LIKE Byzantium: Interview with a Vampire (1994) provides a more classical, romantic approach whereas We Are the Night (2010) keeps things totally modern and Euro-sleek.  For gorgeously lethal movies, the beauty of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006) and Hanna (2011) actually by far eclipse this film and are both highly recommended for the unique sensory-driven style.

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This finely shot film opens with an elegantly underspoken narration by Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan; Hanna, The Host), a young woman who reveals that her fate is bound to Clara (Gemma Arterton; Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Clash of the Titans). As we are cautiously introduced to these strong characters our eyes traverse one scene to the next, and with each we swiftly approach an understanding of their desperate lifestyle spent drifting and suppressing secrets.

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The acting is superb. Like Anne Rice’s Lestat, Clara portrays the ruthless, manipulative, survivalist parent whereas Eleanor (much as the resistant Louis) resents her mother’s actions. Director Neil Jordan (The Borgias, In Dreams, The Crying Game, Interview with a Vampire , The Company of Wolves) has an impressive résumé including period piece drama, sexual thriller, classical vampirism and gory non-mainstream fairy tale horror, so we I read he was directing this film let’s just say “you have my attention.” This film moves at a generally slow pace, punctuated with occasionally eventful blood flow. It is far from exciting; more “interesting” really. For even the slow seasons curry my curiosity of what fate will befall Eleanor, Clara, their relationship, their lives.

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Through a series of flashbacks we discover a more mysterious vampire origin; one that neither matches folklore nor is completely explained .

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Blood waterfalls on mysterious islands.

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These vampires walk in daylight, cast reflections and have no fangs, but live forever, crave blood and require invitation. The vampirism is not exactly presented subtly, but the focus is placed on Clara and Eleanor’s struggle to survive and the growing strain on their relationship. To protect this secret Clara would do anything. But it seems Eleanor yearns to share her secret. When she meets a brooding love interest (Caleb Landry Jones; The Last Exorcism, Antiviral) her willingness to suppress her secret wanes.

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The score is serene, able to lull a beast to calm before putting it down. It complements the thought-provoking, moody atmosphere so well as we estimate the dubious future of these vampires. The gore is abundant in brevity, but not distasteful, and occasional scenes are brutal, but appropriate. One shot of bloodletting was actually quite beautiful.

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I was never swept away by an Anne Rice-esque violent vampiric passion. But I remained engrossed in this story, beautifully told by characters with depth.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. Victor De Leon permalink
    April 17, 2014 3:08 pm

    Really liked this film. Good review. I think my review pretty much mirrors yours. It’s a beautiful film to look at plus the material is unique enough for you to really appreciate the perspective. I think it’s going to be overlooked down the line, though. Horror fans shouldn’t miss out on it.

    • johnleavengood permalink
      April 18, 2014 8:33 pm

      Our future “best contemporary vampire film” lists will preserve its value for generations to come!

  2. Death Maiden permalink
    May 10, 2014 3:46 pm

    Just bought it…will be watching Monday. Looks fantastic

    • johnleavengood permalink
      May 10, 2014 4:00 pm

      Oh, a blind buy. I like your style!

  3. January 30, 2015 10:02 am

    Meg and I watched it last night. I really enjoyed it. It was atmospheric, memorable and I liked the ending. I always appreciate new lore.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      March 9, 2015 9:13 am

      And always appreciate waterfalls of blood on remote islands.

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