Parents' Guide to

Carmilla

By Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 15+

Sex, gore in elegant 19th century vampire love story.

Movie NR 2020 94 minutes
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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.

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