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dir Neil Jordan
scr Moira Buffini
prd Sam Englebardt, William D Johnson, Elizabeth Karlsen, Alan Moloney, Stephen Woolley
with Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Caleb Landry Jones, Sam Riley, Jonny Lee Miller, Daniel Mays, Tom Hollander, Kate Ashfield, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Thure Lindhardt, Uri Gavriel, Christine Marzano
release UK 31.May.13, US 28.Jun.13
Viva forever: Arterton and Ronan
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
Lushly shot with colourful waves of emotion as well as darker, whispery horror, this stylised thriller takes a fresh approach to a tired genre. And in the hands of Jordan, it remains intriguingly centred on characters who are complex and unpredictable.
On the run, two women arrive in a seaside resort town: teenager Eleanor (Ronan) feels like she's been there before, while 20-something Clara (Arterton) seduces Noel (Mays) so they can stay in his rundown Byzantium guesthouse. To earn some cash, the practical Clara puts the empty rooms to use as a make-shift brothel. Meanwhile, Eleanor befriends Frank (Jones), a fragile young man to whom she shares her secret: that Clara is her mother, they're more than 200 years old and they need human blood to survive.
The film is a bundle of twists on the vampire genre. Clara is constantly breaking the rules of these immortal beings, which complicates her tangled love triangle with the sinister Ruthven (Miller) and the more sympathetic vampire-cop Darvell (Riley), who only kills people who are old and dying anyways. All of these characters are variations on stereotypes, which gives the actors plenty to chew on, as it were. Arterton is especially on fire as the wild girl who will stop at nothing to protect her daughter.
Screenwriter Buffini has created an elaborate new mythology, adding moody and harrowing wrinkles to the usual blood-sucking premise, including a sharp sense of morality amid all of the sex and blood. This makes up for what is essentially a fairly simple plot, which reveals its secrets in swirling narrative strands that weave together into a big confrontational climax. And Jordan also injects a terrific sense of black humour, with amusing menace and merry grisliness.
As events unfold, the strong characters hold our interest with their deep emotions, so we can feel the high stakes that are involved. The gothic sensibility sometimes feels rather relentless, as these people seem to relish torturing each other. And the men are all a bit mopey. But it's so grippingly cinematic that we're able to engage with even the most outrageous actions and reactions. So there's actually something to think about beneath the lurid, beautiful surface.
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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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