Carmilla

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Carmilla Movie Poster Image
Sex, gore in elegant 19th century vampire love story.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 94 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No real messages here, other than battle between being responsible vs. following your passions, no matter how reckless. A price is paid for recklessness, even though the responsible path, by contrast, seems pretty dull.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The central relationship is passionate but ill-fated; one partner is literally draining the life from the other, and both suffer for it. Problematic representation in the form of a Black maid, who's marginalized in the story. She has very few lines of dialogue and is mostly there to serve the White characters.

Violence

Nightmare sequence shows a body sawed in half, with lots of blood. Hammering sounds, blood spatters; stake driven through heart (off-screen). Dead body impaled by large stick. Teen girl beaten with stick. Whacking palm with a ruler as punishment. Burning hand in candle. Cutting hands on thorn, sharp objects; blood shown. Kissing with blood on lips. Dead bird. Unusual drawings in medical book; they appear to be various surgical procedures. Eerie book with evil-looking drawings. Crashed carriage. Character hyperventilates and passes out. Unpleasant close-ups of worms and slugs. Sudden loud noises.

Sex

Characters kiss and have sex up against a wall, with their clothes on. Teen gets out of water, naked, her bottom showing. Teens kiss passionately in several scenes, sometimes with blood on their lips. One straddles the other, but they're interrupted.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Carmilla is a vampire love story based on Sheridan Le Fanu's 19th century novella. The story has been filmed many times, mostly in the form of exploitation or horror movies (as well as this series), but this film is more elegant and more focused on emotions: It's well worth a look for mature viewers. Expect some scenes with blood and gore, a nightmare in which a body is being sawed in half, hands getting cut on sharp objects, and kissing with blood on lips. A dead body that's impaled with a huge piece of wood is shown, and a vampire is impaled with a stake (blood spatters shown). Other iffy images include beatings and unusual drawings. Characters kiss and have sex up against a wall, with their clothes on, and teen girls kiss several times. One straddles the other, but they're interrupted. Language and substance use aren't issues.

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What's the story?

In CARMILLA, it's the late 1800s, and teenage Lara (Hannah Rae) is lonely. Her mother has passed away, her father is often busy, and she spends most of her time with her strict, pious governess, Miss Fontaine (Jessica Raine). Lara eagerly awaits a visit from her friend Charlotte, who lives in a neighboring town, but the trip is canceled when Charlotte falls ill. Soon after, there's a carriage accident, and Lara's family brings the survivor, a young woman about Lara's age (Devrim Lingnau), inside. The newcomer says she can't remember who she is, so she invites Lara to give her a name; "Carmilla" is chosen. The two young women become inseparable, and Carmilla suggests that they become blood sisters, an act that awakens passionate new feelings in Lara. Soon, however, Lara starts to grow pale and lethargic ...

Is it any good?

Writer-director Emily Harris' movie elegantly avoids genre clichés and exploitation elements, instead narrowing in on the characters' loneliness and longing, making their emotions almost palpable. Based on Sheridan Le Fanu's 1872 novella, which has been filmed many times in the form of vampire movies full of blood and sex (as well as in this series), the original Carmilla doesn't even include the word "vampire" -- and it doesn't need to (although it does contain a gory nightmare scene). Moreover, it doesn't sensationalize the relationship between the two young women. By making Lara's world feel small and by adding small, sinister touches at the edge of the story, the movie achieves a great deal more than a more obvious approach might have.

Harris develops Lara cleverly, illustrating the ways in which she's retrained; Miss Fontaine literally straps her charge's arm to her back so that the left-hander will begin to favor her right. But the teen is also wickedly curious, stealing a strange medical book from her father's library and admiring decay in nature. (The movie occasionally cuts to close-ups of slugs or worms.) Carmilla, meanwhile, is ethereal and charismatic. Her connection with Lara not only feels natural but compulsory. Carmilla isn't perfect, though, as it includes problematic representation in the form of a Black maid who's marginalized within the story. While that type of character might have been accepted at one time, it's an irresponsible characterization now, especially in the absence of any context or commentary.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Carmilla's depiction of violence. How much is shown, and how much is implied? How did the use of blood in the movie affect you?

  • Is the movie scary? Why are scary movies appealing? What do people like about vampire stories?

  • How is sex depicted? What values are imparted?

  • How does the movie compare with the novella and/or previous filmed versions of it?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love vampires and romance

Themes & Topics

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