Review: ‘Byzantium’ (girls crash a boys-only vamp club)

Femme fatales vs. the gentleman’s club – vampire style.

Clara works at a strip club; Ella goes to school. They live together telling neighbors and co-workers that they’re sisters, but the truth is that these two young women are centuries old – and on the run. While Clara survives any way she can to take care of Ella, Ella is more discerning with her life and the lives she subsists upon. Clara thrives on secrets, but Ella can’t help but tell her story and make as many connections as she can. Unfortunately, the secret to their immortality is not only a closely guarded secret but a forbidden act for their gender, and the ones who keep it for themselves will stop at nothing to make their ancient order pure again.

This slow-burn story takes a few leisurely turns in revealing its plot, evenly split between a character piece and a mystery thriller. Unlike Only Lovers Left Alive, this story is more secretive concerning how and when these vampires were created; while we get a glimpse into how they exist day-to-day and decade to decade, there is a constant threat of discovery that keeps things a bit hectic for our protagonists. Working against this dynamic is Ella’s constant need to tell her story and the consequences of someone actually believing her. An interesting thing about this film is the misogyny among the vampires, that their biggest crime the women are accused of is being female, as if only a man can make a decision about taking a life.

Saoirse Ronan portrays the eternally disconnected teen Ella while Gemma Arterton fills the shoes of the overprotective guardian. Each character builds relationships differently; Ella seems driven to make a connection away from Clara – at the risk of their own survival – while Clara understands the value of befriending men but is able to discard them with practiced disconnection. The story comes to a head at the Byzantium, a once-prominent resort hotel on a tourist coast but also the site of a great deal of history for the women; it serves as a fitting location to both reveal their back stories and resolve their future – the site of their transgression will also be where they finally fight back.

The vampires of Byzantium are very different from many such tales, but to the story’s credit, these changes are made to serve. Drinking blood is a must, but a protruding thumbnail serves as the instrument of bloodletting rather than fangs. Sunlight doesn’t seem to bother them any more than religious iconography, but the way a vampire is created may be the most unusual element of the entire story – and one that won’t be spoiled here. If you’re looking for an interesting and different take on vampire legend, check into the Byzantium – they have hourly rates.

(a three skull recommendation out of four)

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