Carmilla

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Carmilla
"Harris drinks deep of the novella's sapphic themes to present a tale of obsession and fear of 'the other' but though the end result is well turned out in terms of look and performance, it could use a little less corseting and a lot more bite." | Photo: Nick Wall

The vampiric has all but been warded off from Emily Harris's Carmilla, which is "inspired" but by no means in thrall to the 1872 source material by Sheridan LeFanu. Instead, Harris drinks deep of the novella's sapphic themes to present a tale of obsession and fear of 'the other' but though the end result is well turned out in terms of look and performance, it could use a little less corseting and a lot more bite.

Hannah Rae - perhaps best known to British viewers for her role as Daisy Hardy in Broadchurch - plays teenager Lara, the only child of a landed father (Greg Wise) we barely see. Lonely, she spends most of her days in the great country pile where they live in solitude, save for her governess Miss Fontaine (Jessica Raine), a God-fearing sort whose strict rules include tying Lara's left hand behind her back for hours at a time in a bid to cure her of using it. "You keep to my rules and all will be well," Miss F tells her, in just one of the pair's ambivalent exchanges, one part reassurance, one part threat.

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When, one night a carriage crashes near the house - this is a Gothic tale, after all - the coachman is killed but his mysterious passenger Carmilla (Devrim Lingnau) survives and is taken in to recuperate. With her unusual accent and flowing red hair, the young woman is striking and strange - and it's not long before Lara begins to be infatuated with the very idea of her, while Miss Fontaine's emotions run in entirely the opposite direction.

Harris has a grip of mood, whether Michael Wood's camera is capturing the freedom of the sunny countryside where Lara seems to feel most at ease or the shadowy interiors of her cavernous home, where candles create auroras of light. The writer/director also highlights the film's Gothic themes by drawing on nature imagery combined with amped up sound design - from the unsettling skittering of a colony of ants to earthworms squidging their way through dirt. There's body horror here as well, though employed less successfully - although the idea, in and of itself, is decent, the insertion of nightmarish anatomy scenes drawn from Lara's subconscious interrupt the flow and feel like more of a nod to the intellectual themes Harris wants to highlight than in service to the story.

Lingnau and Rae create plenty of heat in their scenes together, nicely balanced by the chill of Raine's performance - although her character never quite feels fully fledged. A haunting final image only serves to further suggest that a stronger embrace of the film's supernatural elements would have given it a lot more grip.

Reviewed on: 03 Jul 2019
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A passionate friendship develops between a sheltered 15-year-old and an enigmatic stranger in this Gothic tale.

Director: Emily Harris

Writer: Emily Harris, adapted from the novella by Sheridan LeFanu

Starring: Hannah Rae, Devrim Lingnau, Jessica Raine, Tobias Menzies, Greg Wise, Lorna Gayle, Blythe Danner

Year: 2019

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: UK

Festivals:

EIFF 2019

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