August 8, 2015

Byzantium (2012)

"Residents of a coastal town learn, with deathly consequences, the secret shared by the two mysterious women who have sought shelter at a local resort."

It looks as if the tiny pool of new horror movies has dried-up again for this year, so I've decided to start rewatching the older ones as and when they appear on Netflix. I have no idea why. I'm not even "into" horror movies anymore, but I keep on backsliding when I'm bored.

At least the choice of things to watch is slightly better than when I used to write my "Crap I've Watched on Netflix" posts, but I'm still not saying that the very small selection of horror movies available on Netflix is particularly great. This month's biggest new addition to Netflix is, as you must realise, Neil Jordan's "Byzantium".

As some people will be watching and reviewing "Byzantium" for the very first time, I thought that I should finally write something about it here too. It's not that I haven't reviewed it before, but my critique was only two or three sentences on another site which no longer exists. Back then, I honestly thought that I'd spent more time on my review than the movie actually deserved, and I'm sure that I'm not going to say anything more informative about "Byzantium" now either.

Although I've recently seen a certain "critic" (who I have zero respect for) write that it's impossible to "hate" a movie, I'm pretty sure that I actually do hate "Byzantium". It's not just a case of "disliking it intensely" either. I loathe nearly every pretentious frame of "Byzantium" in its overly long running time apart from the sexier bits with Gemma Arterton.

Easily the best part of "Byzantium".

Yes, there really is only one good reason to ever rent or buy this movie, and it's simply to ogle Gemma Arterton channelling Kat Slater from "Eastenders" as she plays a vampire. Gemma's sexy performance as Clara, plus her deliciously violent and bloody cheesewire decapitation of a very arrogant character early on, are the only truly memorable parts of "Byzantium" for me.

Of course, "Byzantium" might be remembered by some people for being two hours of tedious yet undeniably beautiful camerawork. Nobody sane can deny that Neil Jordon's desire to make every cinematic shot equally valid as a still picture is admirable, except when that technique is clearly overused and stifles the flow of the narrative. The same thing happened recently with "It Follows" (2014), and there have been several more "slow burn" products which have made me wonder if horror directors are intentionally trying to bore their audiences to death nowadays instead of scaring them.

"Byzantium" should, however, be even more remembered for Caleb Landry Jones mumbling his lines so unintelligibly that you have to switch the subtitles on to understand what he says. Any clues as to what accent he's meant to be doing hinge around the facts that he's a Texan in real life and his Frank character has certain health problems and "issues", but it's still no excuse for such a bizarre performance. If it's any consolation, I thought that he sounded Irish.

Once again, a very tiny minority who nobody takes seriously anymore might rave about the blatant misogyny or misandry (depending on which side of the SJW fence they sit) in "Byzantium", but I won't. Make no mistake about it though, "Byzantium" is equally full of both. It's certainly not subtext here either but right in your face!

Having said that, "Byzantium" not only summarises the most common attitudes in its historically accurate depictions of the genders in certain time periods, but give or take the fantasy elements, it contains a fairly accurate depiction of how some people act in the present day. Outside of this imaginary world of the internet where he or she who shouts loudest and most often is the one who gets noticed, there's a gritty reality which isn't pleasant, and you'd only be deluding yourself to think otherwise.

Eleanor is an even more depressed teenager than Bella.

As usual, I have no time for that pseudo-philosphical and political bullshit. I only watch movies for the storytelling. To me, "Byzantium" is just another plodding vampire story where humans are considered second-class citizens and a source of food for the immortals. It's this general misanthropy of "Byzantium" which is the point that all those "reviewers with agendas" are missing.

Similarly to "Interview with the Vampire" (1994) which was also directed by Neil Jordan, and just like in Anne Rice's other novels, to be a vampire is a reward. To be mortal is only to suffer and be used until your purpose is served. In the midst of this, at least Clara thanks the lorry driver who gives her and daughter a lift, but underneath her facade, she's still a cunning, manipulative user and a deadly predator who only does things for her own benefit and personal safety at the end of the day.

Rather than providing a counterpoint, Clara's daughter Eleanor (played by the unpronounceably named Saoirse Ronan) is a 200-year-old teenager with nothing inside her but 200 years years of teenage angst, feeling sorry for herself, a holier-than-thou attitude, and general mopiness. She's still a killer though, and no matter how she might legitimise how she selects her victims in her own mind, she doesn't have any discernable conscience about it. In fact, Eleanor truly believes that she's doing her elderly victims a favour. Roll out the pro-euthanasia bandwagon and preach that message in a movie, why don't you? Not to me, you won't, because I'm not listening.

Eleanor is not the most irritating character in "Byzantium" by any means, since that role is well and truly taken by Frank, but I wouldn't want to watch any more of her than this story allows. Eleanor's romantic subplot with Frank is not "a better love story than Twilight" no matter how it brings that meme to mind. The thought of them doing the nasty makes me cringe.

Passive-aggressively bashing Twilight will not make this movie scary.

The smaller but important supporting roles (including Jonny Lee Miller as Ruthven, Sam Riley as Darvell, and Maria Doyle Kennedy as Morag) are extremely well played and provide the gravitas for "Byzantium" which prevents it from being watched on titter alert for at least the first viewing. Noel the hotel owner is as tragically comedic as any Mike Leigh character (mainly because Daniel Mays is recognisable for playing those roles before), and there are some comical scenes—one of them possibly being intentional—even so. As much as I usually hate it when people do it, "Byzantium" can't stand up to repeat viewings without making it a necessity to ridicule every scene mercilessly.

The bottom line is that "Byzantium" is an extremely slow vampire movie, and as much as it attempts to be, it is not some "high art". Credit is due when it tries to ignore the traditional vampire movie tropes and rules (except for one), and it has a decent enough but predictable story if you like vampires. You really can't and shouldn't expect anything else. It's a hundred times more entertaining than "Only Lovers Left Alive" (2013) anyway.

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