Director Emily Harris boldly eliminates the supernatural quality from the earliest works of vampire fiction, the famous novella Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu. Further extracting any hint of horror at the expense of portraying a young queer coming-of-age period drama. Retaining some of the original gothic feel, Harris narrates a completely different story, more in line with lesbian period films which have preoccupied independent queer cinema of late, with releases such as The Handmaiden, Portrait of Lady on Fire to the upcoming release of Frances Lee’s Ammonite.
Like Harris, such filmmakers exhibit a keen interest in the genre using it as a platform to queer the past. Choosing to re-tell stories that may have potentially been erased in a bid to reclaim some sort of gay heritage. Or perhaps the conservative, trad setting provides for rich emotional fodder for a forbidden love to thrive and ultimately fall. What makes Carmilla even more special, is that its lesbian underpinnings where present in the original source material.
A ferociously inquisitive adolescent, Lara (Hanna Rae) is bored with the stuffiness of her aristocracy, only for it to be distracted by the unexpected entry of injured young stranger Carmilla (Devrim Lingnau), a rescue from a nearby carriage accident. Beautiful, mysterious and suffering a supposed bout of amnesia, Carmilla becomes an all-consuming infatutation. A bond starts to form, eventually leading to a physical consummation, much to the dismay of dominatrix style governess, Miss Fontaine (Jessica Raine) who inexplicably fears Carmilla, blaming her for Lara’s newfound unconstrained behaviour.
Fragments of quaint gothically tinged Victoriana, a large empty manor with shadowy rooms lit by dimmed candle-light with pervasive dark, creaky wood. All is undoubtedly gorgeous but nothing feels like it’s lurking in the shadows as the sensation of ominousness is complietely omitted. There’s also the gaping absence of character build-up; Carmilla and Lara’s whirlwind relationship unfolds too fast, the impetus behind related characters deserved more exposition. Everything culminating to this over dramatic fatal denouement which comes out of nowhere.
Pleasing to the eye, strong performances that convince of the rebelliousness of this young lesbian love. Perhaps if Harris retained some of its vampiric sinister quality it would have pushed this interpretation of Carmilla into something truly unique.
Carmilla is released in cinemas on 16 October.