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Originally published Thursday, July 4, 2013 at 3:05 PM

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‘Byzantium’: a less-campy vampire flick

A review of “Byzantium,” a vampire movie quite unlike “Twilight,” starring Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3 stars

‘Byzantium,’ with Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan, Sam Riley, Jonny Lee Miller, Daniel Mays, Caleb Landry Jones. Directed by Neil Jordan, from a screenplay by Moira Buffini, based on her play “A Vampire Story.” 118 minutes. Rated R for bloody violence, sexual content and language. Varsity.

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Nearly 20 years after “Interview with the Vampire,” Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan returns to the bloodsucking well with “Byzantium,” a moody tale of two female vampires in present-day England. Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) appear to be young women — Clara in her early 20s, Eleanor in her teens — but they’re really two centuries old. With Clara supporting the two of them as a prostitute or exotic dancer, they eke out a living but must move from town to town whenever suspicions are raised, leaving strangely punctured bodies in their wake. “I remember everything,” says quiet Eleanor, sadly, of their endless lives. “It’s a burden.”

After the campy, slack-jawed melodrama of “Twilight,” it’s a pleasure to see a vampire movie that aspires to something artful, and that explores the misery that comes with living — forever — on blood, and in the shadows. Ronan’s Eleanor, doomed to be a sensitive teen for eternity, yearns to tell her secret, and frequently does, but people think she’s joking. In beautiful calligraphy, she writes her never-ending life story; those who read it think she’s creative and disturbed. Ronan, as always, can break your heart with one look; you believe that this child is terribly damaged, and terribly old.

“Byzantium” sometimes gets lost in confusing, lurid flashbacks involving blood-red waterfalls, and Eleanor’s sort-of romance with a dying mortal boy (Caleb Landry Jones, looking paler than any vampire) wanders a little too close to “Twilight” territory. But the film finds its strength in the scenes with the two young women, whose particular, fascinating bond becomes clear as the movie progresses. Holed up in a vividly decaying seaside hotel (you can almost smell the mildew), they confront and comfort each other. Immortality, as Clara reminds Eleanor, is unendurable alone.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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