Based on a play by Moira Buffini, “Byzantium” gives a new spin to the Dracula mythology. Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) are two-hundred-year-old vampire mother and daughter trying to survive in modern day England. Setting up shop in a British seaside town, Clara goes into business as a Madame, turning the dilapidated Byzantium Hotel into a brothel, while Eleanor, frozen in time at age sixteen, befriends a local hemophiliac boy named Frank (Caleb Landry Jones). Their lifestyle choices—prostitution, sanguinary pursuits and general melancholy—soon bring unwanted attention from the townsfolk and an ancient brotherhood.
Like “Interview with a Vampire,” this movie centers around an account of the past. Eleanor, a melancholy child tired of the burden of her family secret, pens a story outlining the lurid origins of their immortality. “It’s like Edgar Alen Poe and Mary Shelley had a very strange child,” says her teacher. As the story passes hands, the movie flits back-and-forth between modern day and 1804, slowly unfolding the bloody tale.
Atmospheric and gothic, “Byzantium” is a vampire tale that will leave “True Blood” fans wanting more. With no fangs—these succubae pierce their victims with pointed thumbnails before draining them dry—coffins or capes—although Clara does wear a bustier emblazoned with he word SUCK—in sight, these vamps are unlike anything we’ve seen before.
The revisionist horror history is engaging enough, but seems a little lifeless, even for a movie about vampires. Lacking any real dramatic tension, it meanders through time—past and present—failing to work up any real momentum. It’s slow and contemplative in Eleanor’s scenes, more rapid fire in Clara’s, who is a bit more enthusiastic about the wet work.
All in all “Byzantium” is an elegant, if slightly dull film, that tries to bring something new to the “Twilightized” vampire genre, but staked by flawed storytelling.