Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Carmilla Movie – review

Director: Spencer Maybee

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

When I put the warning ‘contains spoilers’ on this review it is not just for the film I’m reviewing but also, in this case, for the web serial that it is based upon.

At the end of Season 3, Carmilla (Natasha Negovanlis) and Laura (Elise Bauman) managed to avert the apocalypse but at a great personal cost. Having mercy upon them, the death goddess restored Laura to life and Carmilla was made mortal. The series ended out in the real world, rather than in web-cast mode. That was five years ago…

Elise Bauman as Laura
The web series has a post-credit coda that doesn’t really fit with this, so let’s ignore that. Laura, to camera, updates us on the fate of several main characters. Danny (Sharon Belle) is still a vampire but is an advocate for vampire rights. Perry (Annie Briggs) and Lafontaine (Kaitlyn Alexander) are in business creating paranormal busting technology. Carmilla is using her ‘vampire trust-fund’ to do very little except sunbathe and eat pastries – much to Laura’s chagrin. Laura, Mel (Nicole Stamp) and Kirsch (Matt O'Connor) are on a local news show. Laura, it becomes apparent, is unhappy with the direction of her life and her feelings about Carmilla’s choices are to avoid her concentrating on her own disappointments.

blood coffin
Laura starts having dreams, in a period setting, where she witnesses Carmilla still as a vampire as she seduces a victim, Elle (Dominique Provost-Chalkley). There are also dreams of Carmilla in a blood filled coffin. Eventually she dreams that Carmilla bites her and wakes with Carmilla (in a dream-state) actually biting her. This, of course, is shocking as Carmilla is meant to be mortal. Lafontaine discerns that the spell which brought her back to life is detectable within her, they settle on calling it a spark, but is fluctuating. When the spark is weaker she gets fangs, a sunlight aversion and a craving for blood.

the gang
However, when Laura quotes something Carmilla said in her dreams they realise that these are not just dreams (the quote comes from LeFanu’s story ). Carmilla finds a picture of Elle’s house and it is the one Laura has been dreaming of. They decide it is a call to go to the house and get the gang together (all the characters mentioned above, bar Danny who only appears in the film’s epilogue) to go and check the place out – flying back out to Styria. Lafontaine and Perry bring ghost hunting equipment and Mel a crossbow.

dreams of the past
Soon they are locked in the house with a group of ghosts who are all Carmilla’s victims. They are not after revenge, however. They have been stuck in a nightmare-scape since dying, reliving their worst moments. They have found a spell book that suggests that Carmilla can perform a ritual that will let them move on. The ghosts are represented by Emily (Cara Gee) and Charlotte (Grace Lynn Kung) – the Bronte sisters – we don’t get details on the others. Although the ghosts are genuine they lie about one thing. Elle has come back (they say she hasn’t) and she’s pulling the strings…

Nicole Stamp as Mel
So the first thing to say is congratulations to this web-series for going full movie. I understand there was some crowd-funding involved but nevertheless it is a great achievement. And also possibly a weakness. What I mean by that is that the film is clearly a fan-pleaser. It draws in primary serial characters (though if Kirsch had a purpose it was hard to see) and even Mattie (Sophia Walker) makes a late cameo appearance (in a set up for a second film). But despite this the main story is thin and under-explored. There was an opportunity to develop a heap of atmosphere and, let’s face it horror, that was squandered.

Natasha Negovanlis as Carmilla
It does open up the Carmilla character more than the serial ever did, which was good, but (barring Laura) our other characters were under-explored and under used. The film has received very positive (and deserved) praise from the LGBTQ community for showing queer characters in a natural way, without falling back on coming out tropes (all the characters are out comfortable in sexuality and gender identity) but the supporting characters could have been rounded much more.

This isn’t to say that it is a bad film, just that it isn’t exactly horror and is story-lite. How much you get on with it will depend on whether you are a fan of the serial or not. If you have never seen the serial then the characters will mean little to you and the story will be annoyingly thin, if you have but weren’t a fan you have an advantage but, even so, it won’t be up there on your film lists. If you are a fan I have no doubt you’ll love it (some critically, others not so much). I think, with those caveats, 5 out of 10 reflects a fair balance. More work with characters, atmosphere and plot needed.

The imdb page is here the movie is available at its Homepage.

No comments: