Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Byzantium (2012)

Viewing Neil Jordan’s Byzantium through a looking glass, one sees Another Interview With A Vampire

As a relatively new literary genre, the vampire story and its film adaptations operate within a tightly circumscribed, rarely updated set of conventions, tropes, and mythology. The last time the rules got overhauled was when Anne Rice wrote her Vampire Chronicles, which reworked vampirism as existential ennui and the vampire as Byronic hero, a romantic rebel set against the snooty old boy network. The last vampire film that ditched most of the vampire mythos was in Let the Right One In.

The gimmick in Byzantium is somewhat similar: Neil Jordan allows the story to unfold without any explication of the vampire mythos or worldbuilding. Yet the twist is: in terms of conventions and tropes, Byzantium could well exist in the same universe as Interview with the Vampire.

A pair of mother-daughter vampires (one kills ruthlessly, the other kills out of mercy) on the run from a coven of vengeful vampires out for their destruction move to a seaside town in Surrey, where they attempt to re-establish themselves. In both voiceover and a journal within the film, the 200-year-old vampire daughter narrates the lurid tale of their creation (aka “The A story”) as a means of working out existential issues such as vampirism as eternal adolescence. And ennui. Obviously. While being pursued by a chronically ill, socially awkward boy who’s fascinated by the perfect piano playing and sensitive soul of the town’s newest transplant (aka “The B Story”). If she had been seeing an analyst who was a strict Freudian all this time, she’d probably almost be cured by now!

Neil Jordan’s Byzantium shows the difference between plot and story, and showcases his mastery of good storytelling. It is the B Story, a moody psychological piece emerging from a mashup of Twilight and Let the Right One In, which feels more urgent than its A Story (almost a lifting of Vampire Chronicle template), while both in turn are more engaging than strictly conventional chase story (remember that vengeful vampire coven?) that unfolds behind the scenes and takes over the final act.

As a mirror twin of the dramatic but campy Interview with the Vampire, Byzantium is a comedy with tragic elements. Its protagonists may mope around while making ends meet the hard way and other characters around them may end up with nasty fates. Yet there’s a certain levity that emerges in spite of the gritty story, the beautifully depressing camerawork and doleful score, for while ostensibly avoiding classic vampire conventions, mythos, and tropes, the script ends up making (and we suspect deliberately) so many sly references to all of them that the effect is hilarious, if not unsettling hilarious.

1 comment:

Sam said...

Good review. As it was filmed in my home town, I should point out that it's set in Sussex not Surrey though. Surrey doesn't have any beaches.