Review: Byzantium

FILM
BYZANTIUM
Cert 15 | By Steve Dineen
Two Star

Byzantium is a vampire film that feels like it was thought up during a brainstorming session at a production studio.

“Come on guys, what’s cool?”

“Erm, realism?”

“Yes! Realism!”

“Vampires with problems at school, and with boyfriends?”

“Just like Twilight! Very good.”

“Faded old seaside towns?”

“Brilliant. We’re making history here, people.”

Things kick off with a chase scene; a stripper who just tried to bite the nose off a (somewhat deserving) client is being pursued across city rooftops by a man who looks like the bloke from the BT adverts.

It ends badly for one of them. The other is Clara (Gemma Arterton), who subsequently insists she and her younger sister, Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), run away to a decrepit beach resort.

The first half an hour feels a little like Chan-wook Park’s recent film Stoker, with a “wait, are they vampires…” thing going on, although you’re never really in any doubt that, actually, yes, they definitely are vampires.

It plods along enjoyably enough, especially as Eleanor’s morbid fascination with the geriatric wards of hospitals comes to the fore.

The whole thing, though, is brought down by the series of flashbacks that lazily, and increasingly, drive the narrative (shadowy immortal brotherhood: check; cursed island: check). Byzantium ends up feeling like an amalgamation of every other vampire movie from the last few years – a hint of Let the Right One In, a bit of Being Human, a sprinkling of the Twilight saga.

A thoughtful performance from Ronan is persistently overshadowed by Arterton’s brassy Victorian landlady shtick (in fairness, she doesn’t have a great deal to work with – her character adheres to the “hooker with the heart of gold” trope almost to the letter).

The whole thing has a misty, soft-focus beauty but it’s not enough to save this limp (I’m not going to say toothless – I’m just not going to do it) clichéd horror-drama.

ART
DEADNESS
Matt’s Gallery | By Joseph Funnell
Three Stars

As the greatest philosophical and spiritual conundrum in history, death is a tired subject in art. In Deadness, however, emerging video artist Jordan Baseman instigates a more niche exploration of the often-overlooked propensity for “cosmeticising the deceased” – embalming.

Entering a dim lit corridor you are welcomed by an old photograph of a family posing around an open casket in the snow – an unfortunate house-of-horrors feel permeates the exhibit. In the main space, you are confronted by six slide projectors eerily clicking in unison, each time presenting anonymous men, women and children from the nineteenth century to the present day.

A recording of an interview with sociologist Dr Troyer provides the impetus for more philosophical musings, as he explores the cultural movements that have guided embalming practices. It isn’t meant to be “spooky”. After viewing several silk-lined coffins or twelve gratuitous flower displays, you realise that the unease you feel is actually quite different from reading Silence of the Lambs. These all-too-honest photographs reveal the hollowness of prettifying corpses, and the efforts made by loved ones to create a perfect memory of those who pass away.