Critics' Pick

Byzantium (R)

Drama 118 June 28, 2013
By Stephanie Zacharek
Neil Jordan's Byzantium is more in league with Joss Whedon's cerebral, passionate Buffy the Vampire Slayer series than with the fangless Twilight universe. Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan play 200-year-old vamps on the lam, though neither looks a day over 28. After Clara makes a particularly grisly mess involving a human neck and a bit of piano wire, the two flee to a ramshackle seaside town, a half-asleep wonderland of faded paint and squawking seagulls. There, a mumbly young busboy and student named Frank (Caleb Landry Jones, recently seen in Brandon Cronenberg's Antiviral) falls for Eleanor, watching in amazement as she tickles the piano ivories. He asks how long she had to practice to get so good. She answers drily, barely looking up from the task at hand, "Two hundred years." That sense of continuity and mystery is essential to Byzantium: In one of the most striking sequences, the modern-day Eleanor sees the early 19th-century version of herself, in a bonnet and rough cloak, warily picking her way across that same seashore. A living, breathing ode to the Hammer horror heroines of yore, Arterton is marvelous, while Ronan makes a wonderful vampire teen. Her Eleanor is so serious-minded that you can barely imagine her falling in love, though it makes sense when she finally succumbs to busboy Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), a redhead who, with his translucent skin and seemingly lashless eyes, resembles a pond-nymph: He's water and she's earth. Like all good vampire stories, this is a romance, and Jordan opens himself up to its atmospheric lushness.
Neil Jordan Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan, Sam Riley, Caleb Jones, Tom Hollander, Johnny Lee Miller, Warren Brown, Daniel Mays, Thure Lindhardt, Gabriela Marcinkova Moira Buffini Sam Englebardt, William D. Johnson, Elizabeth Karlsen IFC Films

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