Vampirism: It’s a Family Thing in the First Trailer for ‘Byzantium’

Mark Deming
Movie Talk

If you had to mark the spot where vampires first evolved from goofy guys with Hungarian accents to cool and sexy creatures of the night, it was probably with the publication of Anne Rice's novel "Interview With The Vampire" in 1976. In 1994, Neil Jordan brought Rice's book to the screen in a stylish adaptation starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Kirsten Dunst.

Now that dreamy young vampires are more popular than ever, Jordan has returned to the world of the undead with his new film "Byzantium," and though his protagonist is a teenage girl this time, the trailer that's been released confirms this is a smarter and more sophisticated story of blood and eternal life that the majority of the young-oriented horror tales that have been blowing up the box office in recent years.

Check out the trailer below:

In the opening shots, two women walk through fields at dusk to a cliff that overlooks a picturesque village, while a young woman says in voice over, "My story can never be told. I write all I know of it, and then I throw the pages to the wind." By the end of the sentence, we're watching Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) do just as image soon cuts from this lovely teenager with dark red hair to a woman who looks a few years older and significantly more worldly.

"My mother lives on human blood, and has done for two centuries," Eleanor says, though Clara (Gemma Arterton) looks more like her big sister than her mum. But Clara is all parental authority when she tells Eleanor, "There is a code, always abide by it. Keep it!" But it seems that Eleanor's writings have fallen into the wrong hands, and someone is flipping through the pages of her journal as Clara goes about the ugly business of finding the blood she needs in a series of quick cuts.

We soon discover the men who've discovered Eleanor's journal are also vampires who've made a home in this coastal town, and they confront Clara. It seems Clara is deemed an "aberration" in a community where blood drinkers are all male, and one of the undead softly declares, "We should not permit her to survive." However, it's clear that Clara is ruthless and will fight for her survival, while the more innocent Eleanor meets with a stern but not threatening man with a grey beard. "There comes a time in life when secrets should be told," he says. We follow her as she quietly makes her way through the town, taking blood with confidence but a certain hesitation, using a sharpened thumbnail.

"I am sixteen forever," Eleanor says as she watches a parade of costumed young women walk along the beach. "I walk, and the past walks with me." As police find a body drained of blood, we notice one of the officers is identical to a vampire who has threatened Clara, and in voice over, he tell her, "I have followed you for many years."

Clara has decided she and Eleanor need to flee, but the younger sister seems to have different ideas – we see her talking to a young man with long hair in between cuts of her sucking blood from a piece of flesh, and we hear her say, "I don't want to lie anymore. I've told you how I live." It doesn't take long to tell that Eleanor is in love with Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), and that things will soon turn ugly between Clara and the vampire elders. However, Eleanor also makes an enemy of Clara when the mother decides her daughter has shared too much of their life with Frank.

Throughout the trailer, we're treated to many striking images of the vampires and the village, some beautiful and some disturbing, but the final moments run riot as rivers turn blood red, huge swarms of bats emerge from caves, Clara is chased on foot and by car, and various vampires square off, all looking both sinister and gloriously seductive.

If the story telling is as good as the images in "Byzantium," this should be one of the smartest and best-crafted thrillers of the year. Judging from the trailer, "Byzantium" trumps the vision Neil Jordan helped to craft in "Interview With The Vampire," and it's teenage heroine is at once more human, more conflicted, and more dangerous than the bloodthirsty girls populating other noted teen horror franchises.

In short, "Byzantium" is a trailer than makes its film look not just like a noisy event, but a real movie that's worth watching. Hopefully it will live up to the preview's promise when it opens in theaters June 28.