Thursday, May 30, 2019

Portraits – review

Director: Stephanie Paris

Release date: 2018

Contains spoilers

This modern-day retelling of Carmilla (perhaps more a sequel than retelling, to be fair) does much right, with a definite nod to 70s horror – very telling within its deliberately languid pacing – but is perhaps guilty of throwing too much in that is underused and rushing ungracefully at its climax.

That said there is much to be enjoyed in the film, as we will see.


The film begins with a woman, in burlesque style underwear, backstage and getting changed. The lights go out. She shouts that there is someone still there and approaches the stairs. At the top a figure moves aside, keeping out of view. She returns downstairs and dresses in the dark, suddenly the lights go back on but too late to help her dress. She is going to leave when she is grabbed and stabbed, we see blood but not the assailant.

Mira and Lauren
After the credits (which includes some details of Victorian style corpse photography) we meet Mira (Olivia Bellafontaine) who is in her new apartment. She tries to open a bottle of wine with a knife and cuts her hand between finger and thumb. She goes to the apartment opposite and meets Lauren (Elissa Dowling, Dracula in a Women’s Prison, the Last Revenants, Live Evil & Dracula’s Curse). Mira asks for a corkscrew but Lauren insists on washing and band-aiding the wound. Lauren is a model (we discover Mira is a photographer) who runs an S&M phoneline on the side. She gives Mira a dress (that she was sent for free) and takes her to the in-building bar.

Irena Violette as Madeline
The bar also has a stage with an ongoing burlesque – Mira seems fascinated by the performer. Lauren takes her out to a smoking area where another photographer blows Lauren off, rejecting her for a shoot. Lauren leaves Mira on her own and she meets the burlesque performer, Madeline (Irena Violette, Transylmania & Metamorphosis). Madeline asks what Mira is short for and is told it is Mircalla. She takes Mira backstage to meet the other performers; Olivia (Rebecca Summers), Ruby (Paola Carleo) and Violet (Camille Calvin). Mira is invited to a birthday party the next night (sans Lauren).

As we follow Mira we discover that she has inherited the apartment building and land from her Aunt, she has escaped a bad relationship (back home in New Orleans) and wants to make it as a photographer. She passes a Victorian photograph off as her own to get into a Day of the Dead exhibition. The picture was found in a time capsule of a set of rooms that taciturn handyman Emmerson (Jack Bennett) uses as a store room. Later she realises that it is the scene of at least one Victorian death photograph. Mira also begins to feel strange (a burning like hunger but not hungry, dizzy spells and vivid dreams) and all this starts after Madeline bites her wound (an act Mira doesn’t recall).

a vision of vampirism
The slow build-up worked well as this really nodded towards 70s Euro-horror at times and Emmerson seemed to have stepped from many an old Grindhouse flick. However there was something just a little off – there are murders and missing persons flying around but, whilst there is a connection, they are not explored fully, equally the building relationship between Mira and student photographer Nick (Michael Tribby) could have done with some extra building. Mira’s visions fit but are under-explored, especially around the death photography that seemed important and yet was woefully unexplored.

Mira and Madeline
Probably the aspect that worked least well was the sudden acceleration of plot at the end, taking place in coffin strewn underground tunnels that seemed a tad out of place. That said the film holds your attention and has a nice twist on lore (with a theme of reincarnation that was a little off-kilter from the more commonly used variety of the trope). The background history might have been explored a little more. None of the performances are poor, though Bellafontaine seems a tad lost at times – possibly due to the amount of scenes with Violette who comes across as very natural and offers a good, solid performance.

I liked this, I really did, but some tightening and expansion (or loss) of threads would see the film improving, possibly all the way to a classic. As it is, the film deserves a solid 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

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