Combustible Celluloid
With: Hannah Rae, Devrim Lingnau, Jessica Raine, Tobias Menzies
Written by: Emily Harris, based on a novella by Sheridan Le Fanu
Directed by: Emily Harris
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 0
Date: 07/17/2020

Carmilla (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Vampire Player

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on a 19th century novel by Sheridan Le Fanu, which has inspired many other movies from Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1932 masterpiece Vampyr to things like The Vampire Lovers and The Blood Spattered Bride, Emily Harris's Carmilla feels less exploitative and more literary.

Harris narrows the focus of the story with Lara (Hannah Rae), a lonely teen whose mother has died and whose father seems to be forever working.

She spends most of her time with a pretty but strict, pious governess Miss Fontaine (Jessica Raine), who straps the left-handed Lara's arm behind her back to teach her to favor her right. (Apparently, being left-handed is considered ungodly.)

Lara eagerly, obsessively awaits the arrival of Charlotte, a friend from a neighboring town, but Charlotte's visit is canceled when she falls ill.

Not long after, a carriage accident (in which the driver is impaled and killed) brings a mysterious, ethereal young woman (Devrim Lingnau) into the house. She says she cannot remember who she is, so Lara names her: Carmilla.

The two become inseparable, much to the chagrin of Miss Fontaine, who warns Lara against "feelings of excitement." Before long Carmilla suggests that they become "blood sisters." Then Lara becomes paler and paler and begins sleeping more.

We know, and Harris knows, that this is a vampire story, but no one makes a big deal of it. The word "vampire" is never mentioned, and there are no bats, pointy teeth, capes, or coffins (there is a stake, however).

Instead, Harris occasionally offers close-ups of various slugs and worms — as well as a bloody nightmare sequence — for an unsettling effect. Additionally, Lara is fascinated by some kind of bizarre medical book, swiped from her father's library, and by decay and rot; when she sees a dead bird, her first question is "why is nothing eating it?"

But the relationship between the two young women is vivid and sensuous, painted in red blood and pale skin, loneliness and longing.

Actually, the most troublesome aspect in the otherwise accomplished Carmilla is a Black maid character with maybe one or two lines of dialogue. A marginalized character like this might once have been the norm, but today it seems irresponsible to include her with no modern commentary or context.

At the very least, her inclusion can potentially open a dialogue, give people something to talk about, something to think about.

See Film Movement's official site for information on virtual screenings.

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