Film review: Carmilla (2/5)
The sapphic vampire tale, which predates Stoker’s Dracula by 26 years, has been brought from page to screen multiple times (perhaps most famously by Hammer Horror and in the Eurocult film The Blood Spattered Bride) often with quite a loose approach to the source material.
Director Emily Harris stays relatively faithful but reduces the story to its barest bones, preferring somewhat overdone lingering shots of crawling insects and closeups of her cast to excitement of plot.
Fifteen year old Lara (Hannah Rae) lives with her father (Greg Wise) and her strict religious governess Miss Fontaine (Jessica Raine). Lonely and somewhat morbid, she is greatly disappointed when a promised playmate becomes too ill to travel.
A mysterious carriage accident in the woods brings a substitute to their home in the form of the pretty and odd Carmilla (Devrim Lingnau). Lara is quickly fascinated by her strange new companion and the two bond in mischief, blood and desire. Wary Miss Fontaine grows increasingly suspicious of their guest, as an epidemic of illness and death sweeps the countryside nearby.
The actors do well enough, even if some of the dialogue is slightly awkward and no one quite has the emotional range to warrant extended shots of speaking glances and silent crying. Tobias Menzies as the local doctor is probably the best of the bunch, though Jessica Raine has her moments.
The characters are not explored very deeply and, like the cinematography, they seem to have been considered only from the surface. They are, however, intriguing. The screenplay could have benefited from delving more into Carmilla in particular, and the charged attraction between her and Lara. Because some questions remain unanswered and things happen out of the blue (a lustful moment between Miss Fontaine and the doctor is inserted quite awkwardly) it is hard to feel much empathy, even when the film clearly wants to evoke an emotional response.
The best scenes are those at night, when Lara creeps about with a candle and the girls take a midnight trip to the rose bushes. It is here that Harris evokes a lovely romantic and gothic atmosphere and Hannah Rae’s eyes, shining luminously in the dark, are beautifully entranced.
An audience unfamiliar with Carmilla, or any previous film version, might find this adaptation more satisfying than those who are. It is ultimately empty, but skirts the edge of being compelling. The first half sets up more than the second delivers but there are things to recommend if viewed with an eye for the mood rather than the story.
The world premiere of Carmilla (15, 1 hr 36 mins) took place during the Edinburgh International Film Festival