WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME you saw Interview with the Vampire, you guys? Can you believe that shit came out like 20 years ago already? Back when Kirsten Dunst was still just a seductive little baby, and people thought Brad Pitt with long hair was ungh sexy instead of ungh skeevy. IT WAS A SIMPLIER TIME. As it happens, Interview director Neil Jordan—more favorably remembered for his Academy Award-winning The Crying Game, and who has presumably been kicking himself lately for having dropped out of the sexy undead game—has returned to the recently well-worn with Byzantium, an art-house approximation of Twilight's lucrative melodrama. Turns out some things should remain dead.
Set in contemporary Great Britain, Byzantium's narrative has all the makings of a compelling horror re-imagining: a nomadic mother-daughter vampire duo—Eleanor, the principled former (Saoirse Ronan, ridiculously ethereal, as always), who survives on the blood of the terminally ill, and Clara, the ruthless latter (Gemma Arterton), who supports her daughter through prostitution because of course she does. Pursued for two centuries by a well-bred, exclusively male order of bloodsuckers that view the pair as abominations, mother and daughter take refuge in an unnamed seaside town, where Clara quickly sets up shop as a madam. With 200 years of pent-up sexual repression, Eleanor soon falls for a sickly teenaged mortal, does some overwrought journal writing, and is a generally prudish thorn in the side of her harlot mother. Clara strips and connives and takes a guy's head off. Sam Riley and Jonny Lee Miller drop by to ham it up in the supporting cast.
In spite of its elegant cinematography, a narrative spanning a couple of centuries, and some interesting liberties taken with popular vampire mythology—like the brotherhood of chauvinist vampires, weird coke nails in lieu of fangs, and an unusually discriminate "infection" process—the film manages to feel curiously humble in its scope. Alternating between period piece and modern-day romantic fantasy, what should be a sweeping epic comes across as a modest adaptation fished out of the "Teen Paranormal Romance" section at Barnes & Noble—somewhere in the unflattering middle-ground between Twilight and Let the Right One In. (An aside: I realize that this is a relatively minor quibble, but Byzantium also brazenly commits the most common and irksome sin of the post-Twilight era: gracelessly transposing angsty teen and family drama upon two women meant to be in their early- and mid-200s, respectively. I mean really Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandma? You're making out with a gawky teenager now? You've been alive for two centuries! Have some dignity! Take a night class or something! But I digress). In a market all-too-glutted with the nubile undead, Byzantium simply doesn't do enough to elevate itself above the schmaltzy PG-13 fray it's inevitably fated to be judged against. "We've been here before," remarks the youngest vampire early on, with a gasp. I think she might be right.