Tooth & Neil

The idio­syn­cratic di­rec­tor’s re­turn to vam­pire cin­ema is con­fused, murky but of­ten weirdly com­pelling, writes

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM - Don­ald Clarke

BYZAN­TIUM Di­rected by Neil Jor­dan. Star­ring Gemma Arter­ton, Saoirse Ro­nan, Sam Ri­ley, Caleb Landry-Jones, Jonny Lee Miller 15A cert, gen­eral re­lease, 118 min Those vam­pires re­ally are not pre­pared to get their fangs out of our necks. Last week Jim Jar­musch pre­miered Only Lovers Left Alive, his own hip take on the blood-sucker genre, at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. Now Neil Jor­dan, who di­rected In­ter­view with a Vam­pire nearly two decades ago, gets back on board with this strange, murky, of­ten un­set­tling adap­ta­tion of a Moira Buffini play.

Gemma Arter­ton (all brass and stock­ings) and Saoirse Ro­nan (per­fectly wasted) play vam­pires, ap­par­ently mother and daugh­ter, who, af­ter decades of ram­bling, find them­selves holed up in a crum­bling sea­side town. The peren­ni­ally cowed Daniel Mays, a weak-willed hote­lier, al­lows them to set up a brothel in his es­tab­lish­ment.

Soon the au­thor­i­ties are tak­ing an in­ter­est. But there are other prob­lems. The pa­tri­ar­chal cadre to which the hero­ines once be­longed is in­tent on track­ing them down and mak­ing th­ese un­dead a lit­tle more, well, dead.

Byzan­tium abounds with clas­sic Jor­dan flour­ishes. More at home to red than any di­rec­tor since Michael Pow­ell, he rev­els in the im­age of a re­mote is­land bathing it­self in tor­rents of blood. For the 126th time in his ca­reer, he makes some­thing seed­ily com­pelling of a wasted beach re­sort. The fem­i­nist sub­text adds weight to a fan­tas­tic con­fec­tion.

Un­for­tu­nately, the story never sorts out its var­i­ous strands. The film is not short, but there’s still too much go­ing: a ro­mance with a sick boy; in­ter­ac­tions with teach­ers; Mays’s sad life. The vam­pires’ back-story (a 19th-cen­tury pocket gothic romp) makes un­fair de­mands of Jonny Lee Miller. Too fond of his cack­ling, too lay­ered in bad make-up, Miller seems to have found him­self in an Ital­ian hor­ror flick of the 1970s.

Maybe that was Jor­dan’s in­ten­tion. Maybe not. Byzan­tium never quite de­cides if it’s play­ing it straight or giv­ing in to camp. The re­sult is a slightly frus­trat­ing pic­ture: full of bril­liant things, but ham­pered with at least three split per­son­al­i­ties.

A worth­while ad­di­tion to groan­ing genre, none­the­less.

Neil Jor­dan talks to Don­ald Clarke. See Arts & Ideas

A rush of blood to the head: Gemma Arter­ton in Byzan­tium

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