Vampires have taken a bit of a clobbering in cinematic terms over recent years, mainly thanks to the teenage noodlings of the Twilight saga.

To be sure, the odd interesting flick has raised its head – Midnight Son for example – but in the main mention the word vampire to a modern cinema-goer and it’s more likely to conjure up images of simpering romance and school-pupil angst.

Looking to nestle the vampire flick very much back in adult territory is Neil Jordan’s Byzantium, a sleek, sexy, art-house-esque effort that plays hard and fast with the mythology, but is no less enjoyable.

In essence a simple mother and daughter relationship saga, the film follows the antics of Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), who just happen to be vampires.

The pair, who pass themselves off as sisters, drift from town to town, moving on at the first sign of trouble.

129161605_byzantium_418156bClara earns cash for the pair through prostitution, and when the opportunity arises to set up a brothel in a sleepy seaside town (Hastings in case you are interested), the pair find themselves operating out of a run-down hotel.

For a while things go swimmingly, but before long things get complicated when Eleanor starts divulging the truth of her existence to a local lad (Caleb Landry Jones).

Even worse, the mysterious ‘Brotherhood’, an order of vampires that for some never-explained reason object to any female members, track the duo to their new abode, with things not likely to end well.

Those expecting coffins, crucifixes and flowing capes are likely to be disappointed here, as this is a much more lo-fi take on the genre.

These vampires can happily go out in daylight and kill by using extending thumbnails rather than fangs for example as Jordan toys with conventions.

There is still plenty of sex though, virtually all coming from Arterton, who parades across the screen in barely-there costumes for sizeable chunks of the running time.

While hardly awash with gore, there is still plenty of the red stuff for those who like their genre flicks with a bit of bite – one splashy garrotting/decapitation a particular highlight.

There are pacing issues, and you need to stay on top of things as Jordan’s narrative drops from modern day to the 19th century and back again with head-spinning regularity.

But Byzantium is never less than interesting and is helped tremendously by strong work from the bulk of the cast.

The Arterton/Ronan mother-daughter relationship is both believable and well delivered, even if Arterton’s hooker antics do stray close to parody at times.

Landry Jones adds solid presence, with both Sam Riley and Jonny Lee Miller cropping up in minor roles as figures from Clara’s past.

Jordan obviously has pedigree with this kind of material thanks to his turn helming Interview With The Vampire back in the day, and he delivers the good again here, filling the screen with some memorable imagery, whether it be washed-out seaside locations or rivers running red with blood.

Byzantium will certainly not be to everyone’s tastes, and will probably even frustrate some, but this is an intelligent, off-kilter genre piece that is well worth a watch.

EXTRAS: Cast interviews, Glasgow Frightfest Q & A, trailer

VERDICT: [rating=3]

About The Author

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Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written three books - on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014), the history of the character Norman Bates (2015) and the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker (2017). He is currently working with director Richard Loncraine to explore all avenues in a bid to orchestrate the re-release of 1978 Mia Farrow chiller Full Circle