A Gothic Romance
Isolated from the outside world, fifteen-year-old Lara (Hannah Rae) lives in seclusion on a country estate with her father (Greg Wise) and strict governess Miss Fontaine (Jessica Raine). One evening, a mysterious carriage crash brings a young girl, Carmilla (Devrim Lignau), into their home to recuperate. Lara becomes enchanted by this strange visitor who arouses her curiosity and awakens her desires.
Inspired by the 1872 Gothic novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, it was written some 25 years before Bram Stoker wrote the story of Count Dracula. This is not the first time that the story has appeared on the screen but this version has almost eliminated the vampire aspects of the original. Director Emily Harris instead concentrates on the novella’s sapphic and brings us a story of obsession and fear of ‘the other’.
Lara is alone except for the governess who is God-fearing and strict and her and her father. In the carriage crash near their home, the coachmen is killed but Carmilla survives. She is brought into the house to heal. She is quite striking yet strange. It did not take long before Lara is infatuated with the very idea of her, while Miss Fontaine’s ideas are the exact opposite. The writer/director highlights the film’s Gothic themes by drawing on nature imagery combined with amped up sound. There is also body horror here with the inclusion of nightmarish anatomy scenes drawn from Lara’s subconscious. The scenes between Lara and Carmilla are erotic but balanced by the character of Miss Fontaine. A haunting final image further suggests that a stronger embrace of the film’s supernatural elements would have given it a lot more weight.
Director Harris precisely follows Lara’s day-to-day experiences, filled with busy-work, but devoid of personal meaning. Without an age-appropriate friend or companion, Lara spends her Fontaine-free time in reverie and fantasy, eager for the promised visit of a family friend, Charlotte. When Charlotte, however, falls ill, Lara slips into a despondent state, blaming herself and her overwhelming desire for companionship for Charlotte’s illness. Because she has been raised with a kind of Christianity that emphasizes sin and punishment, especially where sexual desire is involved, Lara sees herself as a lure for demons or devils. There’s more than an element of wish-fulfillment in Lara’s desire for a companion and possible lover when Carmilla appears.
Almost immediately, Lara becomes besotted with Carmilla who claims not to remember who she is, where she comes from, or even her own name. Lara names her Carmilla and she just might be everything Lara imagines in a companion and lover. Lara’s desires give Carmilla what she needs and wants— the life-force she likely needs to survive. Harris leaves the question of Carmilla’s real identity unanswered even though Miss Fontaine finds enough clues about Carmilla’s non-human nature to justify treating Carmilla as an existential threat to Lara.
When Lara becomes mysteriously ill, it’s all Miss Fontaine needs to enlist the local doctor to remove Carmilla from their lives. Fontaine functions as a warning to Lara about repression and oppression and as a threat to Lara and Carmilla’s illicit relationship. As a lone, single woman without means or connection, Carmilla represents a threat to the patriarchal social order and to Miss Fontaine as the conscious, self-aware tool of that order.
The film might seem to be a gothic horror movie, but it’s more romance than horror. Even whenit turns towards the violence necessary to restore the patriarchy, Harris turns the camera away aside from a brief, revelatory shot to tell viewers everything they need or want to know about the outcome.
- Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
- Bonus Short Film — Three Towers(Directed by Jonathan Bentovim and Emily Harris | United Kingdom | Italian with English subtitles | 12 minutes) — A couple’s daily routine on their farm is shattered after a chance meeting with a Scottish tourist who tells them about two buildings that have just collapsed in New York.
About Film Movement
Founded in 2002, Film Movement is a North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films based in New York City. It has released more than 250 feature films and shorts culled from prestigious film festivals worldwide including the Oscar-nominated films Theeb (2016) and Corpus Christi (2020). Film Movement’s theatrical releases include American independent films, documentaries, and foreign art house titles. Its catalog includes titles by directors such as Hirokazu Kore-eda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. In 2015, Film Movement launched its reissue label Film Movement Classics, featuring new restorations released theatrically as well as on Blu-ray and DVD, including films by such noted directors as Eric Rohmer, Peter Greenaway, Bille August, Marleen Gorris, Takeshi Kitano, Arturo Ripstein, King Hu, Sergio Corbucci, Ettore Scola and Luchino Visconti. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com. Visit www.filmmovementplus.com for more information about Film Movement Plus, the new subscription streaming service from Film Movement.