Neil Jordan's vampire flick screened as part of FrightFest at the Glasgow Film Festival 2013
Neil Jordan’s return to the world of vampires was another much anticipated UK premiere, particularly as Jordan, producer Stephen Woolley and stars Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan were in attendance. This is a modern urban vampire story playing out in a rundown British seaside town but it does share elements of Jordan’s previous bloodsucking epic Interview with the Vampire.
While the vampire legend is central to the plot Jordan takes a subtle approach, this is less about fangs (they favour hooked thumb nails over teeth) and crucifixes than the curse of immortality, the boredom and the hunger, the need to feed. Ronan plays Eleanor Webb as an angel of mercy only bringing death to those who are ready; she feels trapped by her life, unable to reach out and connect to others or even tell them the truth. Meanwhile her mother Clara (Arterton) is just trying to keep them safe and make ends meet as they find shelter with Noel (Daniel Mays) at his shabby dilapidated hotel, The Byzantium.
Vampirism certainly isn’t portrayed as glamorous, going for a more credible interpretation with echoes of Daughters of Darkness, Martin and Let the Right One In. This brooding, unromantic take gives Byzantium a level of reality, grounding the folklore in our rational world. Ronan easily carries the film and once again proves how great a young actress she is; Arterton isn’t given much to do but easily fulfils the cinematic ‘tart with a heart’ archetype; Caleb Landry Jones plays Ronan’s love interest as too wane and limp to be genuinely relatable (in fact he borders on the irritating). The two timelines (their birth as vampires circa 1800 and their life now) help flesh out the humanity of their plight but even with all the wonderful shots, costumes and the odd splash of blood it all adds up to a fairly average vampire flick.
Afterwards Jordan (on crutches, due to a broken leg) admits in the Q&A session how nervous he was taking on a vampire project in the wake of Twilight and it’s always good to see such an established, Oscar winning director producing genre films while Arterton and Ronan added a heady dash of glamour to Friday’s FrightFest session.