This coming of age story was inspired by the 1872 Gothic vampire novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Adapted by writer-director Emily Harris with a feminist focus, the atmospherics, lighting and music hold just enough tension to last the film’s 96 minutes.
Fifteen-year-old Lara, played by Hannah Rae, lives in seclusion on a vast country estate with her kind but distant father, Mr Bauer, played by Greg Wise, and a strict governess Miss Fontaine, played by Jessica Raine.
Late one evening, a mysterious carriage crash brings the sole survivor into their home to recuperate. The beautiful young stranger, apparently suffering from amnesia, unsettles Lara who gives her the name Carmilla.
Carmilla dominates Lara with burgeoning sexual tension and stronger resolve. She insinuates a worldliness, challenging Miss Fontaine’s authority. Yet the governess hovers not too far away, intermittently revealing her own desires and passions. A few other minor characters remind us that there is, in fact, an outside world!
Set in the lush grounds of the estate, Lara is distracted by insects and flowers. Miss Fontaine explains to Lara that for the insect to live, part of the flower has to die. The sumptuous gardens and rich interiors provide the darkened dimly lit backdrop to this tale of intimacy and coldness. As Carmilla and Lara’s passions are actualised, Lara appears physically drained. Other girls in the country fall mysteriously ill.
This period piece recognises marriage fantasy myths, multiple layers of oppression, the repression of women, as well as the impacts of rural isolation. For a vampire-inspired movie, there is a relatively low amount of blood. Any release of tension is done on low burn and with a lack of spark.
The film has a pervading darkness in terms of lighting which appears at times to be trying too hard to create effect. There is also an almost heavy handedness in the shots of nature and creatures.
Philip Selway’s score is appropriate with the lyrics of the last songs highlighting the difficulty of going to sleep and struggling to breathe in such an oppressive atmosphere.
Despite this, younger audiences and those who liked the original material may extract enough delight from the acting skills of Hannah Rae and Devrim Lingnau to enjoy CARMILLA.