Wednesday, October 7, 2020

CARMILLA (2020) (Film Movement DVD Review)

CARMILLA (2020) 

Label: Film Movement 
Region Code: 1
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 94 Minutes
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround &amp 2.0 Stereo
Director: Emily Harris 
Cast: Jessica Raine, Tobias Menzies, Greg Wise, Hannah Rae, Devrim Lingnau

This Gothic folk horror is based on the seminal 1872 novella by author Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, who a quarter century before Bram Stoker penned Count Dracula, gave us the tale of Carmilla, the world's first female vampire seductress. First time director Emily Harris largely strips away the veneer of vampirism to get to heart of a coming-of-age love story set during repressive Gothic times. In it we have fifteen-year-old Lara (Hannah Rae) who lives in on an isolated manor with her strict father Mr. Bauer (Greg Wise, The Crown) and an even stricter governess Miss Fontaine (Jessica Raine, The Woman In Black).

At the start of the film Lara is overflowing with excitement as the prospect of the arrival of a female friend who is the daughter of her father's associate, but when illness unexpectedly befalls her friend and the visit is cancelled she is totally crushed. A few days later her dull life is enlivened with the arrival of a young woman following a fatal carriage accident nearby. The young woman (Devrim Lignau) is brought into their home to recover from the accident, apparently she has no memory of what happened or even who she is. The amnesiac teen is dubbed Carmilla by Lara, and the teens become fast friends, Carmilla's arrival awakening Lara's innate curious nature and blossoming teen-sexuality.

Miss Fontaine is less than enthused by the arrival of the pretty young stranger and the effect that she is having on the impressionable Lara, who has always rebelled against her religious upbringing and the constraints of polite society. While exploring the wreckage of the carriage Fontaine finds a book about witchcraft, thereby planting the seed that Carmilla is a perhaps a force of evil, that witchcraft is afoot, and when young girls in the area begin to fall ill with a mysterious malady, including Lara, things take a dark turn.

I will give a word of warning that Carmilla is not a horror film despite the source material, it's a doomed same-sex romance set during a particularly prohibitive and repressive era, and when our teen females begin to find comfort in each other while exploring their sexuality arms the puritan hairs on the necks of Mr. Bauer and Miss Fontaine are certainly hackled, to a violent degree. I think if you come into this with the expectation of a full-blooded vampire tale you are gonna be disappointed, so put that idea away and put on your arthouse hat and enjoy it for what it is, a gorgeous, Gothic coming-of-age love story, largely devoid of blood-sucking trappings like fanged-snarls and seductive bloodletting. That's not to say that the film does not manage to get under the skin, there are images peppered throughout of slugs, bugs and other creepy pests in close-up with exaggerated sound-design indicating early on that there's something unsettling just under the surface of the idyllic pastoral settings, along with a moment of startling violence that though it happen just off screen is no less disturbing.

The isolated stone manor set in a idyllic county setting looks gorgeous, the period and tone feels authentic, and the passions of each player comes through in the excellent performances. Overall I think it's an interesting spin on the vampire seduction story with the sexual morays of the era casting the curious desires of teens to be the influence of devilry and witchery. It's certainly a tragic story but also an enthralling watch from start to finish, though admittedly the lack of the grue might be off-putting to some expecting a traditional blood-drinker, but not for me.

Audio/Video: Carmilla (2019) arrives on anamorphic DVD framed in 2.35:1 widescreen, an attractively lensed film with
gorgeous cinematography that looks as good as can be in standard definition. Audio on the DVD comes by way of English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround. Extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette and an interesting 12-minute short film from the director. The single-disc release arrives in a clear keepcase with a two-sided sleeve of artwork. The artwork is not reversible but does feature an image from the film on the reverse side along with an excerpt of an interview with the director plus a few words from Film Movement on why they chose to release the film. Tucked away inside is a 12-page Film Movement catalog, and the disc itself features the same artwork as the wrap.

Special Features:
- Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
- Bonus Short Film - Three Towers (Directed by Jonathan Bentovim and Emily Harris | United Kingdom | Italian with English subtitles | 12 minutes) - A couple's daily routine on their farm is shattered after a chance meeting with a Scottish tourist who tells them about two buildings that have just collapsed in New York.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Carmilla (2019), the period setting, the tone, the subtext, and the performances are all top-notch, I would highly recommend it to fans of low-key period horror who don't mind the absence of more visceral elements. The DVD looks and sounds terrific, but I would love to see this get a Blu-ray at some point with a commentary track.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for appreciating my cinematography... very proud of this one... & yes... hope people come to view this as art house coming of age... not fangs, blood & gore... but admit challenging when it’s named after & loosely based on the book!! But lovely intuitive review thank you. M