Based on Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871 novella, Emily Harris’ Carmilla tells a coming-of-age story within a suspenseful, atmospheric gothic chamber piece.
Blood Sistersby Chris Drew
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Living with her largely absent father (Greg Wise, Sense and Sensibility, in a small role) and her strict devil-fearing governess Miss Fontaine (Jessica Raine, Call The Midwife), lonely Lara (Hannah Rae, Fighting With My Family) spends her days studying and escaping to be outside in nature.
Lara is left saddened when local girl Charlotte falls ill and is unable to come for an extended stay. But one night a carriage crashes nearby, killing the driver, and the surviving young woman is brought to the house to recover.
Initially forbidden to see the unexpected guest, Lara is intrigued by the new arrival and then delighted to have the company of the otherworldly Carmilla (Devrim Lingnau, Immortality). As the pair become close, Carmilla’s increasingly macabre ways and influences gradually take Lara to a dark place, to the horror of the ever-present Miss Fontaine.
Carmilla tells its story simply and effectively with a small cast but writer/director Harris and her actors do a superb job at slowly building mood and suspense.
There is an underlying menace to proceedings; one dark and disturbing dream sequence is genuinely horrifying.
There is a nice contrast between the naturally light outdoor scenes and the candlelit interior scenes, which reinforces the gothic feeling, while the use of repeated close-ups of active insects, with extremely heightened volume, reflect Lara’s burgeoning curiosity and sensuality.
Rae makes a captivating lead, perfectly capturing Lara’s innocence and yearning, while Raine is effective as the domineering figure in the household dealing with her own fears and concerns, and Wise and Tobias Menzes (The Crown) as the doctor lend gravitas.
But it is German newcomer Lingnau, as the memorable titular character, who makes a lasting impression. With an unplaceable accent and wild, almost cat-like, eyes she is both alluring and dangerous and is a big part of the film’s success.
Recalling such influences as Jane Eyre, Let The Right One In and Rosemary’s BabyCarmilla makes for compelling viewing.
Carmilla is on limited release in cinemas on 16 October 2020 in the UK and on demand from 19 October 2020.