Take a bite

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The human-vampire romance at the center of Byzantium has less in common with the emotional roller coaster that is Twilight than with the sweetly creepy relationship in Let the Right One In. Like that 2008 Swedish film—remade in 2010 as the English-language Let Me InByzantium is about the friendship between a gawky human boy and a preternaturally poised teenage vampire girl.

She ought to be poised; she’s actually 200 years old.

The marvelous Saoirse Ronan plays Eleanor, the undead adolescent bloodsucker whose narration guides the moody and visually stylish film by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game). For two centuries, Eleanor has been forced to move from town to town, accompanied by her mother, Clara (Gemma Arterton), whenever too many dead bodies start piling up.

The constant relocation isn’t Eleanor’s fault. Like Twilight’s Cullens, Eleanor doesn’t cruelly murder humans. Instead, she gets their permission before drinking their blood, seeking out mainly the elderly and the infirm. Clara has her own idiosyncratic moral code, preying on those who would prey on the weak and powerless. Of course, the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t apply here; she’s judge, jury and executioner.

The mother-and-daughter relationship is just as interesting as—and a lot more fraught than—the one between Eleanor and Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), the sickly teen who befriends Eleanor when she and her mom turn up at a British seaside resort, having hastily fled their last home. Eleanor has a kind of purity that her mother, who makes ends meet by turning tricks, lacks. When Clara opens a brothel in the seedy Byzantium guesthouse, playing on the lust and loneliness of Noel (Daniel Mays), the building’s sad-sack proprietor, Eleanor’s disgust with her mother is unfiltered.

Their relationship is, as they say, complicated. Flashbacks gradually illuminate a backstory, pointing at long-suppressed, and incompletely buried, trauma.

Moira Buffini’s script (adapted from her play A Vampire Story) hints that Eleanor’s tale of vampires may be a work of fiction. The film opens with Eleanor writing, compulsively, in a diary. Later, she enrolls in a creative writing workshop, where it takes only a couple of assignments before Eleanor’s teacher (Tom Hollander) and guidance counselor (Maria Doyle Kennedy) start to wonder whether their student is in some kind of dissociative state.

It adds an intriguing patina to the story.

Unfortunately, Jordan’s direction is more literal-minded. Despite suggestions that the whole mother-daughter vampire business may exist only in Eleanor’s damaged head, the film keeps insisting otherwise. The bloody flashbacks and the mounting body count keep the story grounded in reality. Or as grounded in reality as a vampire tale can be.

Though Ronan and Jones make a cute, if morbid, couple, Arterton is less appealing. There’s a subplot about Clara being pursued by a pair of mysterious men in black (Uri Gavriel and Sam Riley). Are they cops? Vampire hunters? Vampires? That thriller element is less thrilling than the young lovers’ story.

In fact, storytelling and its healing power lend Byzantium its most intriguing subtext.

Vampire movies, of course, are nothing new. One scene shows Clara, Eleanor and Noel curled up for the evening in front of a television playing the 1966 cheese-tastic Dracula: Prince of Darkness, one of nine Dracula-themed films by the famously overwrought British film company Hammer Horror.

The joke seems to be that in 2013, it’s hard to teach an old bloodsucker new tricks. Still, Byzantium has a few moves that might surprise you. They have nothing to do with blood, but everything to do with the heart.

SVCR-0672 QMT_770x150 CW
More Film...
London Road
A musical murder mystery

The techniques of verbatim theater go back decades, to at least the 1950s, when young German theater troupes would reenact complicated court cases word for word onstage. Even earlier, in the United States, the WPA paid for a form of this performance with its “Living Newspapers,” in…

more »
The Magnificent Seven
Another day, another remake

The big difference between the new version of The Magnificent Seven and the revered 1960 feature is the ethnic background of the main characters. The titular seven in director Antoine Fuqua’s take are a diverse bunch, while the ruthless villain of the piece is no longer a Mexican bandito…

more »
Bridget Jones’s Baby
Renee gets a rebirth

Hapless London-based media type Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) returns to the big screen after a 12-year break to battle unexpected pregnancy, 20-something hipsters and, once more, the perils of live TV in Bridget Jones’s Baby. With our heroine now a successful single producer in her…

more »
Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

A gold medal standard


Connected by climate


The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Love, Loss & What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bellingham Bay Marathon

7:30am|Gooseberry Point

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Veterans Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Post 1585

Starry Night Chamber Orchestra

3:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

I, Angus

4:00pm|Village Books

Art of Jazz

4:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Sunday Night Fusion

7:00pm|Presence Studio

Deobrat Mishra


Culture Shock

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Standup Comedy Showcase

8:30pm|The Shakedown

Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
A gold medal standard


Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

We Grow Market

3:00pm|Northwest Youth Services

Yoga for Outdoor Fitness


Candidate Forum

6:30pm|PUD Building

Cooking with Sea Vegetables

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

The Happy Elf Auditions

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Open Mic

7:00pm|Village Books


8:00pm|Bellingham Public Library


9:30pm|Green Frog

Andrew Subin Artifacts Wine Bar
Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

A gold medal standard


Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

The Happy Elf Auditions

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Making Miso

4:00pm|Skagit Valley Food Co-op

Bingo in Blaine

6:00pm|Blaine Senior Center

All-Paces Run

6:00pm|Fairhaven Runners

Not If But When

6:00pm|Burlington Public Library

Wonton and Char Siu

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Roving Cocktail Party

6:30pm|Gretchen's Kitchen

Bellingham Reads

6:30pm|Bellingham Public Library

Eagle Presentation

7:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Blackfish Prophecy

7:00pm|Village Books

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Beginning Square Dance

7:00pm|Ten Mile Grange

Monastery Talk

7:00pm|Bellingham Shambhala Meditation Center

see our complete calendar »

Andrew Subin Swinomish 2016 Village Books Northwood Steak and Crab Everybody’s Store Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Bellingham Farmer’s Market Artifacts Wine Bar CW BOB 2016