An Irishman beat Bram Stoker to the whole fangs, bites, stake-in-the-heart business way back in the golden age of “vampire fiction.” Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” came to print a quarter century before “Dracula.”
It’s been turned into an opera, comics, anime and many a movie over the past century, and more adaptations are in the works. It’s about a lesbian vampire, so you can see the attraction.
Editor-turned-director Emily Harris (“Borges and I”) serves up a stately, austere and pretty period piece version that plays up the attraction and dabs its finger in blood. It may be the dullest vampire movie I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been bored by the best.
Lara (Hannah Rae of TV’s “Broadchurch”) is a daydreaming motherless teen whose stern governess (Jessica Raine of “The Woman in Black” and TV’s “Call the Midwife”) can’t keep her attention and can’t resist binding and tying her left hand behind her back.
It’s the mid-19th century, and Lara is naturally inclined to do everything with her left hand. Miss Fontaine isn’t having that, what with “the Devil” having use for “the left hand”of darkness. Lara has curiosity about books in her father’s library, books on anatomy, and such “images are NOT for a young lady.”
Another caning it is.
Lara has been desperate for company, way out in the country. A young lady, Charlotte, is expected. But when she doesn’t show up, Lara blames herself, suggesting “I called the Devil” by wanting her to arrive so badly.
Damned if a carriage accident doesn’t put another young woman (German actress Devrim Ingnau) under her roof. She is in shock. Her driver was killed.
“She’s perfect, except she can’t speak.”
Lara dreams about her, about the driver, and then stumbles into her in the dark of night. She can speak! What’s your name?
“Carmilla” it is.
As they bond and spend hours off by themselves together, Miss Fontaine and the doctor (Tobias Menzies) fret. There’s talk of “rumors, superstitions,” and that for which “there would no medical remedies.”
Adapter-director Harris frames her subjects well, but fails to find much that is spooky about any of this, even in her many night scenes. The heavy lifting of recreating 19th century Britain (no Irish accents) seems to have taken up all her attention.
The young stars aren’t particularly engaging while we sense their curiosity about one another, there’s little chemistry or heat in a relationship that’s supposedly all about that.
Not a lot happens, and when it does, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before and done with more terror, fire, sexuality and suspense.
MPAA Rating: unrated, blood and violence, erotic content
Cast: Hanna Rae, Jessica Raine, Tobias Menzies , Devrim Lingnau and Greg Wise
Credits: Written and directed by Emily Harris , based on the novella by Sheridan Le Fanu. A Film Movement release.
Running time: 1:34