"Byzantium" doesn't breathe new life into the weary vampires-on-the-run/young-vampires-in-love formulas. But Neil Jordan ("Interview with the Vampire," "The Crying Game") still manages to return this sort of tale to the realm of adults, with the meaty themes and grim, gory violence that "Twilight" scrubbed out.
Saoirse Ronan is our heroine, the young woman who narrates the tale in snippets of memoir that she writes and then throws away. Why?
"My story can never be told," she narrates. "I remember everything. It's a burden."
And what young Eleanor remembers is her decades of travel with Clara (Gemma Arterton), her ruthless and sexy protector. Clara is quick to take up pole dancing or prostitution to help them make ends meet. And if things get out of hand, if those stalking them get too close, Clara is more than willing to bite and behead any threat to their survival.
Eleanor has a compassionate streak. Even after a near-miss attack, she's inclined to take pity on any human who takes pity on them. With Clara's overripe body, fishnet stockings and stiletto heels, men take them in, all the time.
Eleanor meets a sickly young waiter, Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), when she sits at the piano in his restaurant.
"How'd you learn all those notes?"
"Two hundred years."
Eleanor has longed to share her secret, despite Clara's warnings. Might Frank be someone she can trust with it?
There are vampire tale tropes - they must be "invited" into houses where they carry out their feeding - and easy comparisons to earlier recent stories in this genre. The novelty here is the absence of fangs. The vampires sport puncture-wound creating fingernails, the "pointed nails of justice."
There's not much new here, but at least "Byzantium" has well-acted, compelling characters telling its time-worn tale with style.