The marketplace has long been flooded with vampire movies, but there are at least as many anti-vampire movies — ones that try to hide, however coyly, that they’re about immortals with a bag for blood. Neil Jordan’s 2013 number “Byzantium” joins films like Spike Lee’s “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” and Park Chan-wook’s “Thirst” — as well as Kathryn Bigelow’s “Near Dark” and George A. Romero’s “Martin” — in hanging with bloodsuckers but never once using the word “vampire” or indulging in excess staples, like garlic and wooden crosses. At this point avoiding cliches is a cliche too, but not hitting all the marks ideally gives creative filmmakers room to give the ideas some real exploration and expand the genre in fruitful ways.
“Byzantium” is one of the ideal ones. The heroes are an ageless mother and daughter — forever young Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) and forever hotcha Clara (Gemma Arterton) — who are currently holed up in a seaside hotel. They’re eternally on the run, not only from authorities but a coven of male vampires, who’ve spent centuries trying to keep them in line, to make them traditional submissive women. One of Jordan’s few bona fide hits was 1994’s “Interview with the Vampire,” but “Byzantium” is more intimate and even more politically engaged, swapping that one’s pansexual utopia for angry feminism. It’s clever and sly but also a showcase for actors. Ronan does her earnest shy thing but Arterton gives a revelatory performance as a woman who uses sex — she turns the hotel into a brothel — as a long con to ensure her freedom.