Byzantium- Movie Review

Posted: December 14, 2015 by Jaden C. Kilmer in Movie Review
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DISCLAIMER: I have a very different opinion on this movie than my fellow Living Author, Philip.

Saoirse Ronan has finally made herself known to movie buffs around the country with her Golden Globe nomination for best actress for Brooklyn, with plenty of Oscar buzz building. While I was not too thrilled with the movie, as you may have seen in an earlier review, I am very happy the perennially overlooked Saoirse Ronan is finally getting the kind of praise she deserves. But she’s been in great movies all her career, few more visually beautiful as 2012’s Byzantium.

Byzantium is directed brilliantly by Neil Jordan, who also helmed Interview with a Vampire. It’s visually beautiful, its colors mostly dark and subdued aside from meticulously chosen moments of red. He uses the camera in an unobtrusive way, accentuating the scenes without reminding you that you’re viewing the images through a lens. It’s one I want to watch on mute one day. Just to see if I can still follow the story, which, admittedly, is a bit thin.

At right around 2 hours in length, Byzantium really has enough plot for only an hour forty-five minutes worth of material. It starts to sag a bit around the two thirds mark, when it reaches a point where the mysteries of the characters and the story are pretty much revealed, and you’d expect it to start to move the plot towards the climax, but it doesn’t. It lingers a little too long, but when the climax to the story does roll around, it doesn’t disappoint. But even when the direction of the story lags, Neil Jordan’s visual treat is still there. The abandoned, old-fashioned hotel that gives the film its name and is also where our characters live, is absolutely gorgeous.

God this movie’s pretty

It’s also not your standard idea of a vampire movie. Their fangs are actually more like claws, an extra-long, extra-sharp thumbnail that grows and shrinks at will. They don’t bite their victims, but stick their fangnails into a victim’s neck or wrist and suck on the blood that flows out of it. It’s genuinely creepy, and it’s also very refreshing. I mean- it’s refreshing to see a different kind of vampire attack, not that drinking blood should refresh you like Gatorade. It differs from the norm further when it delves into its creation mythology. Borrowing from Caribbean folklore, its vampires are born through a surreal experience they must go through on an island only visible with a certain map. I REALLY want to explain just what they go through, but this is a spoiler-free review so you’ll just have to trust me on this: It’s creepy as hell.

Now, it wouldn’t be a Saoirse Ronan movie review if I didn’t mention the acting.

The women of the film steal the show, with Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan carrying the brunt of the acting weight. They have great chemistry and seem to dissolve into their roles- Arterton as the vampire equivalent of an overworked mother, Ronan as the quiet teenage daughter. When she’s asked to convey a tortured soul, you feel her torture. When she finds a way to express herself through writing, and she finally racks up the courage to show her story to someone, you feel her relief. And as usual, she becomes a chameleon. She disappears into her role and you no longer see Saoirse Ronan, you see Eleanor.

Now it should be stressed that if you’re looking for the hyper-violent, high-octane brand of vampires that populate franchises like Underworld then this is not the movie for you. Throughout Byzantium, Neil Jordan eschews action for atmosphere. There’s a bloody scene here and there, but Byzantium‘s power comes not through its action sequences, but in the brooding, melancholy scenes between. Its focus is on universalities like mortality and loneliness. And the uniquely human desire to tell stories.

The film could be faulted for trying to be too intellectual for its own good. It’s not like its ruminations on mortality are anything groundbreaking. But it’s a very refreshing take on a very crowded genre that is a prime example of gorgeous film-making. It’s weird. It’s different. You won’t watch Byzantium and then when the final credits roll, snort derisively and go “well I’ve seen that a hundred times before.” Watching it is a bit of a gamble. You may love it, you may hate it, but you will remember it. And I think that’s saying something.


This review is part of VAMPIRE WEEK, in celebration and support of my vampire YA novella, REVENANT, which is available on Amazon now for $1,50. It’s also free for Kindle Unlimited users.

US store UK store


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