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Director Neil Jordan returns to the vampire genre with "Byzantium," and his sense of offbeat menace and brooding atmosphere is still intact.

The film centers on two mysterious young women, the hot-tempered Clara (Gemma Arterton) and the moody teen Eleanor ("The Host's" Saoirse Ronan). Clara works as a stripper and prostitute to keep herself and Eleanor alive as they travel from town to town. We soon learn that both feed on blood, that they're each a couple of hundred years old and that their trail of victims is being followed by two mystery men (Sam Riley and Uri Gavriel).

In a seaside English town, they set up shop, with Clara seducing a schlub (Daniel Mays) and turning his rundown hotel into a brothel, while Eleanor writes her secret life story and makes time with a swoony leukemia patient (Caleb Landry Jones).

Where Jordan, nearly 20 years after "Interview With the Vampire," and screenwriter Moira Buffini ("Tamara Drewe," which starred Arterton) really get things cooking is in a series of atmospheric flashbacks that reveal how Clara and Eleanor came to be bloodsuckers. Jordan, true to form, moves fluidly between past and present toward an archly frenetic finale.



Opens Friday, July 12, at the Tower Theatre; rated R for bloody violence, sexual content and language; 118 minutes.

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