Actress Saoirse Ronan is becoming an independent film darling. Ronan, beautiful and plain looking and still under 20, caught our eyes in 2007ís Atonement, a film to which she received an Oscar nomination. That was followed by Peter Jacksonís misstep, The Lovely Bones in 2009. But since then, Ronan has been busy building some Hollywood cred in lesser known films. In 2011, she starred in Violet & Daisy and then again in Hanna. And now, she stars in Neil Jordanís vampire art film, Byzantium.
Neil Jordan is no slouch when it comes to vampires. In 1994, he took Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise and paired them together in the big screen adaptation of Anne Riceís Interview with the Vampire. The film was a moderate success (expectations, of course, were extremely high) Jordan went on to direct films such as Michael Collins and The End of the Affair.
But Jordan jumps back into the monster genre (he also directed The Company of Wolves in 1982) which Byzantium, a stylish and artsy look at a mother and daughter vampire team that look to survive in a small seaside town.
Ronan plays Eleanor, the daughter of Clara (Gemma Arterton) who has turned her daughter into one of the undead. The curse is that Eleanor remains in her 16-year-old body even as she ages past 200 years.
Eleanor and Clara could not be more different. Clara takes roles as prostitute and pimp in an effort to keep the family in funds. While Eleanor is a soft spoken writer who longs to tell her incredible story to someone who would believe her.
The two are not without their share of drama and thickening the plot are two male vampires that look to destroy both Eleanor and Clara (female vampires are frowned upon and female vampires that make other vampires Ė such is the case with Clara Ė are an abomination). The chase results in Eleanor and Clara consistently moving from town to town and starting over once again.
Things get even further complicated when Eleanor falls for a young man in town and reveals to him her past. With this knowledge exposed, Clara and Eleanor argue over future paths. Paths that will eventually have a reckoning.
Byzantium is not your typical vampire film. There are no fangs (they use an elongated thumbnail to puncture the skin of their victims) and the vampires are able to walk freely in the daylight. Some conventions still remain. They have to be invited into a home before they can enter. Crosses and Holy Water do not come into play and the vampires do not possess any extra strength or speed of that of a normal human.
These new twists on an ancient story should have propelled Byzantium. After all, sparkling vampires are just not in favour with genre fans. But instead, we longed for some fang puncturing and we would have greatly appreciated a little more blood to go with the all-too familiar story.
Ronan is superb in role as the young-yet-old Eleanor. But Gemma Arterton didnít hit all the necessary notes in playing the vampire mother. The supporting cast was supportive, but not very memorable as the story bounces between centuries.
Vampire fans are likely to be disappointed with Byzantium. There isnít enough blood to keep gore geeks amused and there isnít enough sexual deliverance to avenge for the lack of action and violence. What we are left with is a below average artsy vampire film that fails to deliver anything new or interesting.