Two sisters try to lay low in Dublin while being pursued by long-coated inspectors. Having committed a rather kinetic and conspicuous murder in the opening sequence of the film, the Webb sisters are actually a pair of highland blood suckers, a 200 year old mother and daughter pair of vampires. Possibly the last of their kind, moving from town to town and still working out some serious parent-child issues (not the least of which is their approach to handling their prey) Gemma Arterton literally vamps it up, putting on a prostitute pose to seduce lowlives and cops, while her daughter, plays more school girl, a more subtle and melancholic performance by Saoirse Ronan. The opposite disposition of these ladies (and the secrets they keep) are the engine for a plot that takes its sweet time to get going, but eventually, perhaps too late, pulls the narrative strings together.
Neil Jordan is no stranger to either fairy tales or gothic drama having started his career with Red Ridinghood horror picture, In The Company of Wolves, peaked commercially with the romantic vampire studio picture, Interview With The Vampire, and recently brushed up with Irish folklore in Ondine. Even the directors indie dramas, The Crying Game and The Butcher Boy flirt with gothic and melodramatic stylings. If you want to do a more stately and classical take on the modern vampire (read: no sparkling emo treacle) it would appear that Jordan is your man. Which makes it a bit baffling how Byzantium never really soars, even as it pulls all of its narrative strings together in a somewhat satisfying conclusion. The film tries to establish the contrast between its bodice-ripper (Gemma Arterton’s cleavage upstages her somewhat histrionic performance) segments and stylized urban melancholy. Neither Anne Rice nor Mike Leigh, the film offers some compelling images in an attempt to marry the two, but it is an uncomfortable union.