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Byzantium review

Arterton opens some arteries

Director Neil Jordan had The Company Of Wolves in 1984 and conducted an Interview With The Vampire a decade later.

Small wonder his newest Gothic offering should have the feel of a trilogy-closer, though those expecting plasma by the bucketload may find their bloodlust frustratingly unsated.

True, the opening scenes see stripper Clara (Gemma Arterton) garrote a creepy pursuer’s head off after a hectic foot pursuit that at one point has her drop through a skylight onto a very convenient bouncy castle.

Yet this proves to be more the exception than the rule in a vampire film that tries its best, albeit with mixed results, to avoid the staples of the genre, even to the point of having its bloodsuckers pierce jugulars with talon-style thumbnails instead of the customary Dracula fangs.

Clara’s crime is to have become a creature of the night in the first place, an infraction that has seen her spend two centuries fleeing outraged male vamps ‘The Pointed Nails of Justice’ (led by Sam Riley).

Gemma’s latest brush with this Volturi-aping order sends her and sister Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) fleeing to a rundown seaside town, where Clara sets about turning a guest house into a brothel (the Byzantium of the title).

Her more introspective, less entrepreneurial companion, meanwhile, falls for an ailing young leukemia sufferer ( Antiviral ’s Caleb Landry Jones). Turns out he’s just her type: namely, someone on the verge of death to whom she can spill her guts before sucking him dry.

Flashbacks to the 1800s are enlivened by Jonny Lee Miller’s turn as a syphilitic scumbag while the grotty, grungy atmosphere of a coastal resort gone to seed is effectively evoked.

Yet Jordan’s apparent resolve to make an anti- Twilight unfortunately results in a movie that, if not for a fistful of moments of shock, style and excess, would be as drained of colour and tension as Ronan’s victims are of hemoglobin.

Still, at least Arterton brings sexy gusto to the proceedings, a one point bathing in a waterfall of blood, while Tom Hollander amuses as a writing teacher to whom Eleanor spills her tale of woe.

Daniel Mays is good value too as a mothermourning mug whose shabby boarding house, once placed at Clara’s disposal, puts a whole new spin on the term ‘bed and breakfast’.

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Neil Smith

Neil Smith is a freelance film critic who has written for several publications, including Total Film. His bylines can be found at the BBC, Film 4 Independent, Uncut Magazine, SFX Magazine, Heat Magazine, Popcorn, and more.