Friday, April 18, 2014

The Unwanted – review

Director: Bret Wood

Release Date: 2013

Contains spoilers

Director Bret Wood was the man behind the magnificent Indie flick Psychopathia Sexualis and, indeed, I interviewed him about that film. So when I was contacted by him and told he had a new film, it was based on Carmilla and would I like to view it… Well, let us just say I almost gave myself whiplash replying in the affirmative.

Of course the level of excitement I felt, as the film began to play, could have left me disappointed once the film was over – it didn’t. Rather it left me, with a smile playing across my lips, cogitating about a very fresh take on the Carmilla story. It also left me knowing that I had to write these two first paragraphs as a preamble, thus warning you that I am somewhat taken by the Unwanted.

Christen Orr as Carmilla
It has also left me with a quandary, how much of the film do I spoil? After all, the basic Carmilla story is well known but it is the revealing of the layers, the interactions and development of the characters (past and present) that make this film and I hope to not stray too much into spoiler territory with regards that. However I do want to discuss a fascinating story choice that Bret decided upon. I have to say at the outset that this is certainly not a horror film, I would say that it is a psychosexual drama set within a Gothic Americana landscape. It all begins as Carmilla (Christen Orr) arrives in a rural American town by bus.

Troy denies knowledge
She walks out into the country, looking for a specific address. She knocks on the door and a timid young lady, Laura (Hannah Fierman, V/H/S & the Vampire Diaries), answers. Carmilla says she is looking for someone who used to live there but Laura’s family have always lived there. Her dad, Troy (William Katt), takes over the conversation. The person Carmilla is looking for is Mircalla Karnstein (Kylie Brown). Troy denies knowledge of anyone with that name but does offer Carmilla a lift back into town.

Hannah Fierman as Laura
Carmilla goes to the police department to look at the public records of calls regarding Troy’s home, but it will take 2 days for the records to be found and compiled. She then goes to a diner and is handed, when she sits down, a cold drink. She looks up and sees the waitress is Laura. She orders coffee but Laura brings some food over. It is clear that Carmilla doesn’t have the funds for food by her reaction but Laura insists she has it. Laura asks about Mircalla and we discover that she is Carmilla’s mother – though she never saw her. Carmilla is both guarded (indeed, in an interesting costuming choice she wears a breastplate through much of the film) and a little touchy about her mother.

Tell me my life is about to begin...
Laura suggests that her father may not have technically been lying (about her living in the house, he was lying about not knowing her) but may know more than he let on and suggests Carmilla meets her back at the diner at 3. In the intervening scene we see Laura’s hand languish over a carving knife. Laura takes her to a trailer that her father used to rent out. Laura doesn’t know if he rented it to Mircalla but he may of, she tells Carmilla. She offers Carmilla the trailer as a place to stay for a couple of days. When she speaks to her father he admits he lied about Mircalla but says he did it for the best of reasons. He intimates that no good could come of knowing about her.

blood is involved
That is about as far as I want to go re their story but you will be aware that Carmilla and Laura do develop a relationship and it does involve blood. Troy believed Mircalla was a vampire and Laura cuts herself. The relationship, as it grows, does involve blood-drinking. I mentioned a fascinating story choice and that appeared within the subtleties of the character portrayals, as the dynamics between Laura and Carmilla were in some respects – as I saw it – inverted to the way they were in Le Fanu’s original. This is despite the fact that Laura seems very fragile in many ways (beyond the obvious reliance on cutting) and Carmilla seems strong.

car crash
It is also interesting that the carriage crash, from the beginning of the original story, does remain in the film but in the form of the historic car crash that brought Mircalla into the family’s life. The car hit a bridge support and Mircalla was the most injured being the passenger. The driver, Dwight (Neal R. Hazard), left by bus for their original destination whilst she was taken to hospital and he never came back. Karen (Lynn Talley), Laura’s deceased mother, took Mircalla in. Carmilla knew Dwight’s surname but we never discover how she knew it, presumably through her research into her mother but we can look to her being something more than just a character, a living symbol within the psychosexual landscape.

in the field
The acting was superb. I immediately recognised Hannah Fierman from V/H/S and have to say that she is a very striking looking young woman, with astoundingly large eyes – and that element gives her face an otherworldly quality and adds to her characterisation. Christen Orr was excellent also as Carmilla and the two actresses worked well together generating a real chemistry. It seemed to me there were some referential nods to the genre. For instance, one scene seemed to subtly parody and subvert the Twilight “lying in a field” scene, and there was a brief moment, through a music box, of Swan Lake that immediately summoned thoughts of Dracula (1931). Talking of music the piece of music over the opening credits was superb.

Kylie Brown as Mircalla
As I suggested, I really liked this. Carmilla is a piece that lends itself to being the basis for psychosexual drama but I was taken very much with the journey this took the Laura character on, the play with the genre (that was very knowing) and that reversal of dynamics I mentioned. 8.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Zahir Blue said...

I really want to see this!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

zahir, knowing what you like - yes you do :)