GFF 2013: Byzantium Movie Review 0 135

Glasgow Film Festival 2013 - Byzantium
Byzantium sees legendary director Neil Jordan return to the world of Gothic vampirism for the first time since 1994’s Interview with the Vampire. From a script written by Moira Buffini adapted from her play, the plot focuses on 200-plus year old mother and daughters vampires, doing their best to adapt while on the move from place to place throughout the times.
While this is certainly no Interview With the Vampire in terms of character development, mythology or (perhaps most importantly) a distinct sense of time and place it is nevertheless a nicely atmospheric addition to the vampire canon. It works very hard from the get-go to make you believe in its vampire world and you’re positively steeped in it from the get-go.
However, the actual vampire mythology itself is less developed than it should have been as it needed to go a bit more in depth with how it’s playing around with the various established rules. For instance it’s never really explained why these particular vampires can go out in sunlight and that aspect is actually brushed aside as somewhat of an afterthought when it’s obviously one of the more important aspects of vampire mythology.
It’s a very well cast film, with plenty of recognisable faces playing the types of characters we’ve not really see them play before. Saoirse Ronan is a solid anchor for us throughout as she partly narrates her life story which her (over)protective mother insets on being kept secret. There’s a very interesting performance from Gemma Arterton who really gets to sink her teeth, so to speak, into a strong, complex and compelling character. We also have solid supporting turns from the likes of Daniel Mays as an emotional man seduced into helping the two, Tom Hollander as a suspicious self-help teacher, Sam Riley as a detective who is more than meets the eye and a gleefully over-the-top Jonny Lee Miller.
The film is framed as a back-and-forth between present day where Clara is running a brothel out of the hotel called Byzantium and the past to show how she and her daughter became vampires and just why it is they are now always on the run. It partly works but suffers from a feeling of not really being able make up its mind what sort of movie it wants to be; the more thriller-centric present can sometimes take away from the Interview with the Vampire-lite past and vice-versa. A commitment to consistency of style makes it admirable in intention even as it’s flawed in execution.
It’s nice to see Jordan return to this sort of elegant yet grotesque and uncompromising filmmaking, with a fresh spin on the well-trodden vampire genre. Pleasingly unafraid to graphically show on-screen the requisite blood-sucking and never sparing on the gore, this is also unashamedly action-packed when it needs to be, with a few more foot chases and the like than you might be expecting but it punctuates the proceedings with those rather than becoming the point.
Overall the film is certainly not without its deep flaws, chief among them is the fact that it tends to drag at points and maybe could have done with about 20 minutes shaved off its runtime. But this slightly weird, slightly off-balance and always visually beautiful maternal vampire story is a journey worth taking, warts and all.

This review was also published in The Journal.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Killing Ground 0 649

This review was previously published at The National.

This audacious and especially gruelling Aussie horror-thriller from short film-turned-feature director Damien Power centres on a young couple, Ian (Ian Meadows) and Margaret (Maya Stange), who take a camping trip with their baby to a remote and idyllic spot in a national park.

Once there they discover another group’s camping gear, however the people are nowhere to be seen. Upon some investigation they find themselves a part of a gruesome crime perpetrated by a couple of unknown assailants who appear to be hunting them down.

This impressive debut exemplifies the horror genre’s unique ability to unnerve an audience, lulling us into a false sense of security as so many horror films do with a pair of amiable leading characters and a sunny prospect of a calm holiday retreat before slamming home the horrific truth of the matter.

Using a very clever narrative structure of flitting back and forth between the present couple’s predicament and what exactly happened to the group that set up camp before them, the film drags us by the scruff of the neck down a gruesome and astutely disquieting road that makes for equal parts compelling and shocking viewing.

The horrifying events are amplified by Power’s decision to shoot them with a serene passivity. He allows the unfolding threat and repulsive violence to occur in an almost matter-of-fact manner, utilizing stillness captured by the beautiful cinematography to offset the horror. It conjures a deeply uncomfortable sense that, adding to the film’s largely cynical disposition, bad people exist in the world who commit terrible acts and there’s often nothing we can do about it.

Killing Ground effectively continues the line of grizzly Aussie horrors like Long Weekend, Wolf Creek and The Loved Ones, as well as particularly evoking the Brit gem Eden Lake. This is an example of cinema that knows how to ramp up the tension by never being afraid to show the brutal reality of a scarily believable predicament – in every way it’s unapologetically not for the faint-hearted.

7.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Home Again 0 633

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10