Wednesday, 12 June 2013

'Byzantium' Film Review

Mother daughter duo Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) have a secret. They are both 200 year old vampires on the run from the dark brotherhood, whose gift Clara had stolen in order to save herself and her daughter.

When she is discovered, Clara and Eleanor flee to a coastal resort town in hopes of starting a new life. With local Noel (Daniel Mays) under her spell, Clara opens a brothel in his run down hotel Byzantium. But when Eleanor falls for Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), she is torn between keeping her mother's code of secrecy which has kept her alive and the love which she beckons to feel from another. 

The movie opens with Eleanor writing and narrating her story as she cannot breathe a word to anyone else which becomes a backbone for the progression of the movie. She tells the tale of her mother's desperate plight to provide and protect her through prostitution as well as the past which Clara tries so hard to forget. 

Thematically, the movie is quite sexual, though not explicit. Clara is very much a succubus, luring men with sex and then killing them, subverting their power, whilst Eleanor is a kindred spirit, granting death to those in pain and old age. This contrast of character is strongly portrayed visually and stylistically, from the clothes they wear, their speech and their posture. 

Another strong thematic exploration is the relationship between mother and daughter which is extremely strong. How does Eleanor feel about what her mother is doing for a living? The sacrifice which Clara makes to keep Eleanor safe- the brutal means to keep their secret hidden... only to be met with disrespect, ingratitude and disgust, but beneath this is love: they clearly love each other but the way that they show this is intriguingly genuine.

With the first half being rather melodramatic, the second half really picks up when tension forms between mother and daughter. Eleanor, who was brought up in a religious orphanage, yearns to tell the truth and this is also how we, the audience get answers.

Many people will at once question how Clara (looking in her mid-late twenties) could have a daughter who is sixteen and both be vampires. How does the mechanics work? The movie does explain this through flashbacks- whilst not overly convincing- is nonetheless explained. And it is here, on a remote island that we get some of the most breathtaking visuals from the film.

What is also visually strong is the cold washed out colours of the coastal town against the comparatively decadent hotel Byzantium, featured in the iconic and artistic poster for the film.

As the truth unravels, the plot heightens and a chasm is driven between mother and daughter which creates a real ultimatum. Whilst the movie had been rather quiet with a few distinct scenes of tension and gore, the action really pumps up in a thrilling conclusion which brings all the themes explored together for a satisfying finale.

Gemma Arterton- Clara Webb
Saoirse Ronan- Eleanor
Sam Riley- Darvell
Caleb Landry Jones- Frank

Also stars Warren Brown, Daniel Mays and Thure Lindhardt.

Both female leads Arterton and Ronan are fantastic in this movie: bringing completely different characters to the male dominated film. Playing a vamprostitute, Arterton gives ferocious sass and stylishly takes out the men, whilst Ronan in the first half gives a quiet, somewhat inhuman 'Hanna-like' performance (there is even running included), and in the latter, finds her own footing to create an original performance. 

The two together have great chemistry and portrays the mother daughter relationship in a genuine and believable way- even though they are vampires, they have issues too!

Neil Jordan, director of 'Interview with a Vampire', returns to the genre with a modernly delicious female-focused take. Led by two stellar actresses, Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan, the exploration of mother daughter relationship is vicariously portrayed. Visually stunning, the washed out setting dashed with ruby red blood and a flicker of sexuality gives it a unique style.

Mis-sold as 'Twilight for Adults', this is an art-house horror which is miles from the teen-vamp-franchise and is definitely worth a watch. 

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