This week I was invited to a private screening of the current edit of the film. A few things remained unfinished. One or two scenes haven’t been completely color-corrected while the writer/director asked about various sequences. So what I saw is not a final version. But close enough I can give a general idea of what the film looks like, how it flows, etc.
Like roughly half the adaptations of Carmilla, Styria changes the time period. The novella, published in 1872, takes place before that date. But the film shifts events to Soviet-era Hungary, in 1989. Rather than a retired officer in the Austrian service, the central character’s father (Stephen Rhea, veteran of Interview With The Vampire) is a Cambridge professor visiting an old castle behind the Iron Curtain. He’s there to preserve a pair of murals left behind when the castle was a tuberculosis sanitorium before the first World War. He brings his daughter Lara (Eleanor Tomlinson) with him, after her expulsion from school.
Spielsdorf, the vampire hunter in the novella, is re-imagined as a secret police General. More than that, he’s made into an incarnation of patriarchy. He struts onto screen and one immediately believes him capable of nearly any crime, especially in pursuit of his own power or pleasure. Exactly the kind of brutal, clever thug who rises to such positions in police states (the Austrian Empire in 1872 certainly qualified).
Herein the film’s interpretation of vampirism lies–as feminine power suppressed, and thus perverted. In many ways Styria tells of Lara’s passage through blood and nightmare, finding the very thing unhappy young girls often lack yet crave–power. She might as well be anorexic. Certainly she comes across as deeply unhappy from the first moment she appears. Tomlinson’s performance lies at the heart of this film. What so many makes of vampire films do wrong is to focus on the vampire. But in fact the human who falls under the vampire’s sway is the more important character. Without a good Owen Let Me In could not have worked at all. Likewise woe to the Dracula production that doesn’t put the best actress they can find in the role of Mina!
So we follow Lara. We see unfolding events almost entirely through her eyes, baffled by the same mysteries and confronting the same challenges as she herself. The claustrophobia of the castle, with its strangely beautiful decay (in fact the entire film is breathtakingly beautiful to look upon). The not-so-subtle lust of General Spielsdorf, whose presence seems to make the air somehow slimy. When she puts on her earphones the music fills the world. Little wonder she hears so little else–and neither do we! Along the way we begin to share and understand her loneliness, the ache of a girl whose mother is long gone and her father nearly always absent.
Which brings me to an important point. It came up involving feedback given after the showing. Anyone hoping to see this movie needs to understand it is not a horror movie. It is instead a dark fantasy. If resembles Twixt many times more than 30 Days of Night. I enjoyed it very much, was drawn into the very personal world of a girl whose personal demons in many ways take shape. The audience with whom I watched it almost universally agreed!