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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Emily Harris
prd Lizzie Brown, Emily Precious
with Hannah Rae, Devrim Lingnau, Jessica Raine, Tobias Menzies, Greg Wise, Scott Silven, Lorna Gayle, Daniel Tuite, Colin Blumenau, Joseph Baxter
release UK Jun.19 eiff,
19/UK Altitude 1h34
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Based on the 1871 novel, this gothic vampire story predates Dracula by 25 years and takes a more seductive approach to the mythology. It's a beautifully made film, moody and insinuating, packed with subtle interaction between characters who have learned to hide everything they feel. Writer-director Emily Harris tells this story with skill and artistry, spinning a sensitive, visceral tale and lacing it with proper grisliness.
Isolated in a vast manor house, 15-year-old Lara (Rae) lives with her father Mr Bauer (Wise) under the strict rules of her governess Miss Fontaine (Raine), who disapproves of her dawning fascination with anatomy. Then after a nearby carriage crash, Carmilla (Lingnau) is brought to the house to recover. The local doctor (Menzies) finds her mysteriously uninjured, while Lara is curious to meet someone her age. Indeed, Carmilla awakens feelings inside Lara, and her sensuality is powerfully alluring. Miss Fontaine is horrified by this, and decides that she needs to act quickly to stop it.
The film is gorgeously photographed (by Michael Wood) in shadowy rooms lit by candlelight, roaring fires or sunshine seeping in from small windows. This allows the film to smoothly slip in and out of dreams, which adds to the gripping atmospheric intensity, especially with some yucky cutaways. And a travelling magician (Silven) adds to the supernatural aura. So as Lara's arousing sexuality begins affecting her perception, this becomes a battle between Miss Fontaine's corrective instruction and Carmilla's transgressively open approach to her body.
Performances are earthy and also somewhat haunted. So the interaction has a whiff of literary stiffness, along with an undercurrent of authenticity. Rae is terrific as the innocent girl who is both frightened of and thrilled by her naughty thoughts. She skilfully evokes the naive honesty of the character, especially in her interaction with Lignau, who gives Carmilla a wonderfully knowing cheekiness. Raine is also excellent as the third side of this twisted triangle, a tough but caring woman who has her own dark current of curiosity. She's certainly not immune to lustful thoughts herself.
Harris builds erotic tension beautifully without sensationalising it. Instead, Lara's yearning adds nuance to her coming-of-age, complicated by the tantalising temptation in Carmilla's kisses. While Miss Fontaine strides around in black spoiling all the fun, the enigmatic Carmilla seems increasingly voracious. Seen through Lara's eyes, this is intensely exciting. So it's odd that the perspective shifts in the final act as Miss Fontaine and the doctor plot an intervention. The makes the ending feel abrupt, but there's still a strong emotional kick.
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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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