I had heard about this lesser-known vampire film on Anne Rice’s Facebook page because the director, Neil Jordan, directed the movie based on her classic, Interview With The Vampire. But I didn’t see too many promos for it, so I guess it was one of the movies that wasn’t expected to be a huge hit. Maybe Hollywood feels there are too many vampire movies out there.
But it appears the word is spreading about Byzantium. I’ve seen a few blog posts about it, particularly from Francis J. Franklin and more recently, from Irish author Emma Meade. The latter’s post got me very interested because the movie was next on my Netflix queue, so I was already prepared to anticipate a good movie.
Byzantium is about two mysterious women who say they are sisters. But in truth, they are mother and daughter who are also vampires. They’ve spent two centuries roaming England, hiding and finding places to live, while feeding on humans. At the start of the movie, the mother, Clara played brilliantly by Gemma Arterton, commits murder and has to take her daughter, Eleanor, wonderfully done by Saoirse Ronan, to a seaside town to hide from the authorities. Also from the start, we see that the mother and the daughter are very different, despite living side by side for 200 years. Clara is a vivacious sex worker while introverted Eleanor prefers writing. They also have different attitudes to taking human blood. Clara has no qualms taking human life in order to feed while Eleanor prefers drinking from those ready to die. Basically, Clara enjoys being a vampire while Eleanor does not.
As the movie progresses, we see flashbacks to how these two women became vampires. We first see that Clara was a simple woman who had lived in the very seaside town she is now hiding in. That is, until a British military officer forces her to be a prostitute in a brothel, where he could use her whenever he stops by. Eventually, Eleanor is born to Clara, who puts her in an orphanage, hoping that her child has a better life than the one she has now.
From there, we soon learn how Clara becomes a vampire, and we then see that this vampire story is a feminist one, particularly from a mother-daughter perspective. That is because these two women are struggling to survive in a male-dominated world – both ours and the vampire world. Pardon the shameless promotion of the work of a fellow vampire author, but I noticed some similarities between Byzantium and Francis J. Franklin’s book, Suzie and the Monsters. Both are about female vampires trying to live in a patriarchal world, and it was male abuse of women that caused the women to become vampires. The fact that Clara is a stripper at the beginning of this film sounded familiar too.
Byzantium starts off slowly, which may make it a little boring for some. But it reflects Eleanor’s brooding nature. Besides, her choices leads to the climax of the story, which is quite nail-biting. The ending was good, and I felt it left room for a sequel, though I don’t know if one would ever be made. One thing I really was intrigued by was how humans become vampires in this story. It’s very different from the usual blood-exchange that many vampire stories have (even yours truly does that, though with no apology), and the originality of it is cool to watch. Also, these vampires move around easily in the sunlight and have no supernatural powers, making Byzantium refreshing among vampire movies.
Overall, Byzantium is worth the growing buzz around it. Hopefully, it will be one of those sleeper movies that fade quickly from theaters, but word of mouth makes it successful.