TIFF 2012: ‘Byzantium’ does little to revitalize an ailing subgenre

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Written by Moira Buffini
Directed by Neil Jordan
USA, 2012

With the vampire subgenre all but thinning out as of late, it was only a matter of time before someone else tried to reinvent it. Enter Neil Jordan’s Byzantium – a tale of two bloodsucking femme fatales that bounces back and forth between their living in the present and initial respective transformations, incorporating some teen romance and ample gore for good measure.

Possessing thumbnails that could puncture an elephant’s skin and prostitution as a primary source of monetary gain, central vamps Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) know how to live the life, if a bit conspicuously. The latter, uninfluenced by her sister’s harlotry, quickly enrolls in school upon relocating to a nearly deserted seaside town, both of them shacking up with a schlubby mama’s boy-turned-landlord inside the dilapidated Byzantium apartment complex.

Jordan’s no slouch when it comes to fantastical lore, blowing me away with 2009’s Ondine and more obviously honing in on aptly tweaking the film’s base elements thanks to ’94’s Interview with the Vampire, however Byzantium can’t quite sink its teeth into valuable substance. It’s sloppy, mostly due to the shifts within the narrative’s timeline that introduce various, supposedly significant characters that in turn are hard to care about, and let’s not forget the poorly implemented cop-out of a romance subplot between Eleanor and local meek hemophiliac, Frank (Caleb Landry Jones).

Forced elements aside, Byzantium isn’t as defining a work as it thinks it is, embarking on but eventually forgoing a genuine stab at depth from a vampirically existential angle. Details are thrown around haphazardly, making everything feel more messy than cohesive and generally involving. Sure, it looks nice and is an agreeably welcome break from the Twilight scene, yet Jordan’s latest simply can’t hold a candle to any above average genre entry and is forgettable as such.

– Derin Spector

Learn more about Byzantium at TIFF 2012 here and the Toronto International Film Festival here.

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