unholy appetites

Saoirse Ronan Makes a Perfect Bloodsucker in Byzantium

Photo: Christopher Raphael/WestEnd Films

Enthusiastically recommended: Almost two decades after his uneven Interview With the Vampire, the Irish-born fabulist Neil Jordan returns to the realm of bloodsuckers with Byzantium. The movie is gorgeous, mesmerizing, poetic; the lyricism actually heightened by harsh jets of gore. Saoirse Ronan is Eleanor, a young-looking but very old nomadic vampire who drinks the blood of the elderly: They receive her gratefully, as an angel of deliverance. She has a burning drive to write and share her life story — unlike her hottie Cockney guardian, Clara (Gemma Arterton), who has an equally fierce drive to keep their rapacious private lives private.

Ronan makes an ideal vampire: Her face, with its multiple planes, is as austere as a death mask, but her incandescent blue-gray eyes signal the soul within. Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt creates a Gothic night-world out of neon, while Jordan and writer Moira Buffini weave stories within stories: Every vampire has a tale to tell. An extended excerpt from the Hammer film Dracula: Prince of Darkness clues you into the movie’s ­revisionist theme: Monks hammer an enormous stake through the heart of a writhing, nightgown-clad Barbara ­Shelley. The females here assert their right to indulge their appetites — however unholy. They won’t be bound by the other gender’s twisted myths. As is Jordan’s wont, romanticism finally trumps horror, which might leave nihilist genre fiends unsatisfied. For others, these female vampires will bestow the kiss of life.

This review originally ran in the June 24, 2013 issue of New York magazine.

Saoirse Ronan Makes a Perfect Bloodsucker in Byzantium