Monday, January 05, 2015

The Curse of Styria – review

Directors: Mauricio Chernovetzky & Mark Devendorf

Release date: 2014

Contains spoilers

My first draft of this review included a long rant about the production company and how they treated their kickstarter backers. The rant did not affect the score of the film but I believe that the producers treated their backers in a shoddy way and openly broke the ethos of crowdsourcing. However I have decided to remove the full rant (just having this mini rant) so as not to detract too much from the review of a film that (despite the events of the last 18 months) deserves our full attention.

Stephen Rea as Dr Hill
It is 1989 and a car pulls up to the Hungarian checkpoint. As well as a driver the car contains Dr Hill (Stephen Rea, Interview with the Vampire, Underworld Awakening & Werewolf: the Beast Amongst Us), an art historian, and his daughter Lara (Eleanor Tomlinson). There is an issue at the crossing and the guards suggest she cannot cross as her papers are no good. A bribe gets them over and in to a waiting car.

Lara's Diary is full of dark images
They get to their destination, a castle that has been closed since 1917 and was used as a sanatorium for consumption victims due to the spa below it. It has taken Hill 10 years to get permission to remove murals painted within the castle, along with a Dr Burkson – who will be arriving at the castle with his daughter Anna. Hill has arranged a tutor for Lara, Eva Pasztor (Erika Marozsán), and Lara has had to come after being expelled from her boarding school – where it is alleged that she pushed a girl down some stairs, something she denies but also illustrated in her diary. That night she dreams of being a little girl and being attacked by a woman who says she is taking her home.

grabbing the basket
In the morning she hears a man calling out the name Carmilla. He leaves a basket of food by an opening into the castle and a hand grabs the food. Dr Hill is working when he hears a noise – it is workmen come to demolish part of the castle. He arrives at where they are working just as a sledgehammer crashes into one of the murals. An altercation occurs, which is broken up by General Spiegel (Jacek Lenartowicz), more bribes stop the work but Spiegel informs Hill that Burkson (and thus Anna) has been denied entrance to the country under suspicion of being a spy. Lara takes this news badly and we see that she keeps a razor in her diary and her arms are covered with cutting scars. The hole in the mural revealed a hidden stairwell that makes Hill suggest the spa was in use pre-Roman times.

the crash
Lara walks in the grounds, her razor in hand. Suddenly she sees a car careening along a road and crashing. A young woman, Carmilla (Julia Pietrucha), gets out of the passenger side, staggering from the crash. A bloodied hand pulls the passenger door closed and Lara screams as the car appears to try and run Carmilla down. The car speeds away. Lara tries to talk to the girl and offers to phone the police – she says no to alerting the police. However she does go to the castle with Lara, who smuggles her inside without alerting her father to the woman’s presence. Having cleaned her up, and lent her clothes, Lara is taken out into the Hungarian countryside by Carmilla, were they look at the stars. Lara falls asleep and, after a disturbed dream about cutting that seems ritualistic, wakes on the hill top alone.

Lara and Carmilla
Now, it should be stated that Carmilla is not a vampire – at this point. The General is looking for her (and, it is implied, was the driver of the car), she is referred to both as an orphan and a gypsy, and she has lived in the vaults of the castle. She suggests to Lara, at one point, that the Karnstein crypts are in the castle, that they were vampires and one was missed when the rest were destroyed. At that point she does say “my crypt is close”. However it is after she is caught by the general, and subsequently cuts her own wrist and throat, that she becomes a vampire. In this vision the idea of a vampire is that it is a suicide, unable to rest, who seeks to drive others (one book says their loved ones) to suicide. Directors Mauricio Chernovetzky and Mark Devendorf touched on this when I interviewed them.

Feral attack
Other girls in the area kill themselves (the first one to do so is the girl buried in the funeral sequence that is an integral part of Le Fanu’s story) but some become feral and violent – all sense gone, with a need to bite and rend flesh. The locals try destroying those who have died to cure the living – beheading the first girl in her grave and later burning all the suicide girls in their graves. Of course this can’t be successful as the first was Carmilla, not the buried girl. It is an interesting slant on the vampire and, whilst there is bloodletting courtesy of the feral girls, this is very much a different take on vampirism to the norm.

Lara and Carmilla
The character of Lara is absolutely central to the film, her struggles and her past (both that which she remembers and that hidden from her) are fundamental to the narrative and so the excellent performance by Eleanor Tomlinson is key. That said Stephen Rae is excellent within the film also. The post-punk soundtrack works very well - the presence of the Jesus and Mary Chain standing out to me.

Burning in their graves
There is a motif of moths through the film. Whilst the moth is part of the Slavic vampire folklore I don’t think they were being used in that folkloric sense. I did get a feel from the film not dissimilar to that produced by the Moth Diaries (nothing to do with the moths in the title), however the Curse of Styria had the advantage over that vehicle in that it had a palpable Gothic atmosphere, provided in great part by the excellent castle location. It also didn’t have the weaker storyline aspects that detracted from the other film.

8 out of 10. The imdb page is here.

Edit: 24/2/15 - it was announced that the North American release of the film will be renamed Angels of Darkness.


Cappy Tally said...

What exactly went down with the Kickstarter? I'm not familiar with this project, but the good review given here has intrigued me.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Essentially the film was shot when they did the kickstarter and they needed $30,000 for post-production - mainly sound & soundtrack rights - which they more than got.

There was a perk of the film in download, the film as DVD (extra for postage if outside the US and Canada) and the film as blu-ray. These were due June 2013.

There was a kickstarter screening - if you lived in LA – but then they decided not to send the perks out (for fear of piracy) whilst they did the festival circuits and looked to get a distributor. They never told anyone this.

They did eventually put a notification round to this effect - after I kicked off on Facebook - in April 2014. Kickstarter say "If problems come up, creators are expected to post a project update explaining the situation. Sharing the story, speed bumps and all, is crucial." Of course there was no issue - the film was finished and my take is that with an offer (give me money and I'll give you a DVD by a certain date) and an acceptance (here's my money) you are in a contract.

I actually had an email conversation with them re lack of communications, at this point, they again did not keep in regular touch with backers.

Eventually they sent a questionnaire out to backers in November 2014 (at least those of us with the DVD perk) and asked me to confirm my address (fair enough), did I want to swap the perk for a download (a lower priced perk, and rememebr all non-US/Canadian backers had paid extra for postage) and stating that I would lose my perk if I didn’t respond in two weeks (!)

So - they can be 18 months late with their perks but if I don't respond in two weeks I get bugger all.

No communications is the main gripe, breaching the perk date for no good reason the second and then the draconian questionnaire just put a seal on it.

Cappy Tally said...

Wow, that's too bad. Very unprofessional. It's even more unfortunate that the movie was good, because good movies at such an indie level need all the support they can get. Behavior like this could only make it more of an uphill climb for such support.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

actually, I was dreading it being bad as that would have made my review sound like sour grapes

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

I am glad to see this review. It reminded me that I had the video here waiting to be watched! I have to admit I was surprised at how good this was as well, considering all the delays I expected it to not really be worth my time, but I actually think it turned out really well. It was beautifully shot for the most part, and the acting and writing were really very strong. Not to mention, it was pretty faithful to the original story as well. A really good film.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hey Margaret, good to hear from you. Glad you enjoyed :)

Unknown said...

Hm, is this available anywhere? Trailer looked both ambitious and little disappointing, but being Carmilla fan I would like to see more.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Kirsi, its done the festival circuit and I've got a copy as a kickstarter backer... I don't think, as I type, that it is commercially available but suspect the producers wouldn't have honoured the kickstarter pledges if a distribution deal wasn't due - sorry that is vague

Ads Manager said...

i wish I can watch this movie because the trailer looks good and seems promising.. :(

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Kyriex - I'm sure it'll become available sooner rather than later

Zahir Blue said...

It has become available via Amazon and iTunes, with it appearing on Showtime in March 2015.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers Zahir.

With a name change folks, as edited into the review

Humble Heathen said...

I know that this is lightyears (in Interwebs dog years) since the first discussions concerning Styria/"Angels of Darkness" (as it is now known in North America), but I wanted to provide an update to those who might be interested. I found this movie on Showtime last night (as the aforementioned "Angels of Darkness"), so if you have Showtime you should be able to catch it - and it's available on Showtime On-Demand as well.

More info: