Navigating Netflix: The Vampires Edition

For those who prefer horror movies, at first glance Netflix’s library can seem pretty barren. In fact, many people disparage Netflix’s horror section because of its lack of household names like Halloween or The Exorcist. In actuality, Netflix has a pretty diverse selection of films to tickle the terror ivories, so long as you’re open to more independent styles of filmmaking. If you’re inclined to look for your content, you can find an entire treasure trove of options if you just go digging for them, with the likes of Nazi-Zombie movie Dead Snow, or 2014 Australian Indie-Horror hit The Babadook. Luckily for you, I’m here to help you find films to watch without needing to go investigating on your own. Let’s go ahead and take a look at two very different vampire films at your disposal on Netflix.

Byzantium

byzantium-2

Byzantium is a 2012 vampire flick that combines the two most popular styles of vampires (The classic European manors and capes versus the more modern revivalist movement) in the best way possible. The story follows two female vampires, a mother and her daughter, who have been on the run from an evil vampire brotherhood for two hundred years. Burdened by the curse of secrecy, the both of them are never able to settle in one life for too long, as once someone discovers their true nature, they must murder their conspirators and move on to start anew. This wears on the daughter, Eleanor, played by the consistently wonderful Saoirse Ronan, as she believes that sharing her story with a local boy will free her of a lifetime of burden. The consequence of her actions however, is far more treacherous than she might’ve imagined, as this opens a Pandora’s box of her family’s haunted past. Byzantium is a great vampire movie. That much is true. The mythology is ripe and immersive, and they deal with the psychosis of being trapped eternally young yet remembering everything in a really intriguing way. You sympathize with the two vampires and are able to understand both sides; Eleanor, who just wants somebody to relate to, and Clara (Gemma Arterton) who is crippled by a lifetime living in fear. While the film takes place in modern day, we are given a look back into the lives of vampires in time past through Eleanor’s stories. The historical images feel believable and are brought to life through delightfully Gothic costumes and positively Lovecraftian mythology. The action scenes, while fewer in number than most moviegoers would prefer, are exciting and backed by an atmospheric score. The filmmakers understand the idea that vampires are by precedent lovers, not fighters, and don’t attempt to make a bloated action film a la Dracula Untold, but instead portray a much more reserved and overall better quality vampire film. It’s established as a good vampire film, the question is, is it a good film? At times, absolutely. There are sequences in this film that are just terrific. The only problem is the movie is very uneven. While some scenes (the better scenes) are quiet and intimate discussions between characters, at some parts the director attempts to reinvigorate the audience with ostensibly blood-pumping scenes of tension, that just feel kind of out of place. When they breakthrough into full-on action scenes they are exciting as I said before, but don’t feel as though they belong in the same movie. The acting is incredibly imbalanced, unfortunately. Saoirse Ronan is perhaps my favorite underrated actress. Having two Oscar nominations to her name, despite being only 22-years old, she always brings a cerebral and honest performance. While for the majority of the film Gemma Arterton feels kind of one-note, she redeems herself in the last act as a perfectly serviceable actor. No the problem lies not in these two, but in the ancillary characters. It would appear that the director told the leads that they would be making a modern and subdued vampire film, whereas the supporters got a different memo telling them that they would be in a theatrical, over-the-top vampire film of old. Caleb Landry Jones, who plays the local boy with leukemia, is just too brooding, acting absolutely despondent to the point of agitation. The other characters just feel sort of like facsimiles of better archetypes, unable to stand alongside Ronan or Arterton. Don’t misunderstand me, I enjoyed the film, and as far as vampire movies go, it is very intriguing. But it just had more potential that unfortunately remains untapped. But if you just want to see a cool vampire story with lavish scenery and costumes, by all means check out Byzantium.

B-

 

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

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If I recommended to you a black-and-white independent arthouse feminist Iranian Vampire Romance Spaghetti-Western, you would probably look at me like I’m crazy. But in reality, that’s the only way to describe A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. While composed of an Iranian-American cast, directed by an Iranian woman, spoken entirely in Persian and set in the fictional locale of Bad City, Iran, the film was shot in California, giving it an oddly familiar feel to this bizarrely out-there movie. Perhaps the most stylistic film I’ve reviewed yet (even more than It’s Such A Beautiful Day), A Girl Walks Home  doesn’t attempt to follow a three act structure. While still definitely watchable, you will at times find yourself thinking, “what exactly is going on?” I could explain the plot to you, but it’s really very simple. There’s a town of bad people. A vampire wearing a hijab kills the bad men but  in the process falls in love. That’s really it. However, the film that emerges from this simple concept is incredibly complex. Every shot in this film is one to be analyzed. As most arthouse films do, A Girl Walks Home will sometimes sacrifice convention to present to you an image to digest and revel in, regardless of whether it serves the function of creating a “normal movie.” The girl who plays the vampire, Sheila Vand, is just entrancing on screen, saying more in silence than most people could with an entire monologue. The entire film is absolutely dreamlike, with an ethereal score mixed in with Persian music combined with mesmerizing imagery and phantasmagorical characters, creates a sense almost that this is a ghost story rather than a vampire film. While the bloodsucking bits are awesome and once again true to the idea that vampires are more of lovers than fighters, this film is the inverse of Byzantium in that it is a better film than it is a vampire film. I don’t even know if this is a good horror film either, as it focuses much more on the relationship between the vampire and her love interest than it does on trying to scare you. Which is fine, as while there is some unnerving imagery this film is far more sophisticated than your general slasher-flick.  The romance is sweet and simple and reminiscent of the kind of love you’d find in the spaghetti westerns of old. What I found most surprising about this film was its feminist angle. In the film, the vampire only kills men, and beyond that, only kills men that she believes are mistreating women. In a phenomenal scene she terrorizes a young boy before ultimately letting him go with the ominous warning, “Be a good boy.” In perhaps the most interesting scene in the film, she has a personal conversation with a prostitute, explaining to her how much she actually doesn’t care for her profession and how she could be better off elsewhere. The entire film is a wealth of unique and introspective scenes that add together to a intricate and beautiful movie, that also happens to have vampires in it.

A

 

In the end, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is not an overly-simple film, nor should it be. If you’re not looking for something complex, Byzantium is for you. But if you’re a true cinephile, prepared for something unique and thought-provoking, please watch A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. And in the future, come back to my website for more Netflix recommendations, or click here for a list of those I’ve already reviewed. Thanks.

 

-Ethan Brundeen

 

Images: Byzantium, a Demarest Films production; A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, a film by Say Ahh Productions

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