★ / ★★★★
Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) and Clara (Gemma Arterton) have a secret: they have been “alive” for over two hundred years. They are vampires and on the run from a trio of men (Thure Lindhardt, Sam Riley, Uri Gavriel) who appear to know what they are. With a fresh corpse lying face down in their apartment, Eleanor and Clara escape to a seaside town. The plan is to allow enough time for their trail to cool off and earn enough money before they move to a more secure location. Meanwhile, Eleanor gets the attention of Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), a waiter she meets after playing a beautiful melody on the piano.
“Byzantium,” based on a play by Moira Buffini and directed by Neil Jordan, is acted quite exquisitely but it is a trial to sit through. Its look and feel is quite somber, heavy on the eyes with dark shades of red and occasionally poorly lit indoors, so the molasses slow pacing does not do it any favor. Though a much needed adrenaline surges through its veins in the third act, it is too late. I long ceased to care about the figures sulking about on screen.
Part of the reason why it does not work involves the execution of the so-called attraction between Eleanor and Frank. While the actors look good together at times, the dialogue feels too much like a play. They give each other plenty of longing glances but what they have is not allowed to evolve into something interesting. The script is stuck on one idea only different words are utilized to communicate the same thing. As a result, the passion is barely an ember. The relationship needs to be scorching hot—to be a bit more exaggerated—and readily able to move forward at right time so the film demands the attention consistently.
It is plagued with one dimensional characters—somewhat of a surprise because the story jumps between the past and the present which means that it has more of a chance to show certain characters on a deeper level. Clara should have been the most complex. We see her having a difficult background but there is no bridge between she and us. Therefore, it is difficult to care what for what she values. Instead, she is reduced to looking sexy without actually being sexy. This is from the director who helmed the effortlessly seductive “Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles.”
The three men on the hunt for the two women are boring. A discussion about rules that must be adhered to—yada yada yada—remain so vague that it is frustrating to follow. In addition, their methods appear so ordinary during the first half. In the third act, however, elements of camp are introduced. Is this intentional? An act of desperation because halfway through the director realized that the majority of the picture is soporific? How are we supposed to swallow what is happening when the tone is suddenly schizophrenic? It was a mess; it could not end any sooner.
When the picture has nothing to say—which is often—the melancholy piano comes to the rescue and attempts to fill in the empty moments. Clearly what we have here is a screenplay that fails to connect and translate a play onto celluloid.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
Not strong enough to be a full-fledged action film nor a period drama that so happens to have comedic elements, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” based on a parody novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, only entertains when gimmick is still fresh. As it goes on, however, one grows tired of the formula. There is a lack of substance in the characters, their unique situation lacks lasting intrigue, and the supposed war between the humans and the undead is not at all convincing.
The material excels in pointing out and making fun of societal niceties in an era drenched in very deceptive social graces. The jabs land fast and hard and so there is a freshness and breeziness among the exchanges. Particularly enjoyable, as it should be, are banters between our heroine Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) and Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley). We already know they must begin to like one another romantically sooner or later, but there are moments that pack real sting. One can make a convincing case the the dialogue is more exciting and has more grit than the action sequences.
Would-be exciting battle scenes between highly trained zombie killers and brain-eaters are rarely, if ever, effective. Notice how such scenes are shot and presented. The editing is quite choppy as to create a mere semblance of urgency, the framing is either from the waist up or numerous closeups are mistakenly employed. Facial expressions end up being the focus as opposed to impressive acrobatics. When there is a full body shot, the performers’ head and feet tend to reach the top and bottom of the screen. As a result, usually we only see images near them. Thus, the scale of the battle is lost and so we are not convinced they are really caught up in any life or death mayhem.
Although the period pieces are lovely to look at, from the dresses women wear and coats men sport to the makeup applied as to highlight specific faces’ strongest features, the look of the zombies is completely wrong. CGI is used far too often to the point where every time an undead’s face is shown, it is almost comical. There is nothing scary about them. It might have been far more convincing if a digital approach were thrown out the window altogether and instead took on a more tactile approach like using actual paint, masks, or makeup.
Personality is eventually drained out of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” directed and based on the screenplay by Burr Steers, which is an elementary mistake because its inspiration, Jane Austen’s classic novel “Pride and Prejudice,” gets more interesting as it progresses. In the book, when secrets are revealed, they command gravity. Not here. It feels as though revelations must occur in order to progress the plot. Although the film captures our interest, it fails to do anything special or worthwhile to keep our affections. It does not have the vision or the ambition to go beyond the artificial idea of zombies plaguing the Regency era.