It’s been almost a 20 years since Neil Jordan brought us Interview With The Vampire and now he’s back to tread similar ground. The thought of another installment in an overpopulated genre may sound like immense tedium but Byzantium promises to provide cinemagoers with a fresh batch of British blood.
Eleanor (Ronan) and Clara (Arterton) are on the run, not only from the law but also from their dark and traumatic past. Clara uses her power of seduction to take advantage of lonely Noel (Daniel Mays) who allows the pair to take refuge in his sleazy guesthouse. Whereas Clara is more than happy to cover up the truth with makeup and tight-fitting clothing Eleanor is desperate to share her secrets. The jumps between flash-back and present day make for an unnecessarily convoluted narrative, but things are unraveled in a fairly intriguing way and the pacing is just about punchy enough to prevent the experience from feeling stagnant.
The performances don’t offer much in the way of likability and the acting is pretty corny all round. Ronan, who has been excellent in the past wears an almost permanent expression of pained confusion. Jones is on similarly one-note form and mistakes mystery for gormlessness as the feeble love interest. Miller is abysmal as the pantomimic villain but at least he seems to be having fun as opposed to Sam Riley who looks constantly constipated. Watching Arterton is like watching a Halloween special of Eastenders but her breathless gusto makes her the spark in a balsa wood cast.
Stylistically the film is puzzling slop and it’s never crystal clear as to who or what it’s aiming at. On the surface it appears to target the Twilight audience with its tale of star-crossed tween lovers plagued by secrecy. But its stylised, albeit sporadic, gore and gratuitous profanity all but eradicate its chances of sinking its fangs, or in this case…thumbs, into that demographic.
It’s not a complete failure, it passes the time (although more time than it really should) and there are some memorable moments, including one that brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘blood-bath’. But it’s missing the necessary ingredients to place it alongside the likes of Let the Right One In and as a result its nothing but forgettable fair. It could have been a gust of fresh air that filled the lungs of the genre, instead it just reeks of garlic.