Angels of Darkness DVD Review
Written by Angry Scholar
DVD released by Revolver Entertainment
Directed by Mauricio Chernovetzky and Mark Devendorf
Written by Mauricio Chernovetzky (screenplay), Mark Devendorf (screenplay), and J. Sheridan Le Fanu (novel)
2015, Region 1, 99 minutes, Not Rated
DVD Released on February 25th, 2015
Stephen Rea as Dr. Hill
Eleanor Tomlinson as Lara
Julia Pietrucha as Carmilla
Jacek Lenartowicz as General Spiegel
Back in late 2013 I was pretty excited. I'd just downloaded a public domain eBook of J. Sheridan Le Fanu's gothic vampire novella Carmilla (I even reviewed it, if you're interested in such things). Weirdly, right after that, I came across the trailer for a film called Styria, a reimagining of Carmilla that moved the narrative from 19th-century Austria to a Soviet satellite nation in the late 1980s. The trailer looked great, and in my zest for vampiric goodness, I pestered the directors for an interview (which they kindly granted).
Despite my initial enthusiasm, I eventually lost track of Styria, so I was pretty surprised when I was offered a review copy of Angels of Darkness, which turned out to be the film's release title. Here at last was my Carmilla! And at the risk of showing my hand too early, she was worth the wait.
Angels of Darkness follows Lara, a troubled teenager accompanying her father, Dr. Hill, on a trip to recover some murals by a famous artist. The murals are located on the walls of an abandoned castle/sanitarium somewhere in Soviet Eastern Europe (I don't think the exact location is ever named). The castle is slated to be demolished, and Dr. Hill, an ex-Cambridge academic, is positively in a tizzy-a staid, bland British tizzy-to rescue the priceless works of art. Lara, for her part, is apparently a problem child; she seems to have attacked a schoolmate, though she denies it, and was expelled as a result. She also enjoys cutting herself, and early on we learn that there's some deeper darkness in Lara's past involving her mother.
Exploring the woods outside the castle, Lara witnesses a car slam headlong into a tree. A lone woman stumbles out, and as Lara watches, the driver reverses the car and attempts to run the woman down. Lara calls out to warn her, the girl dodges just in time, and the car drives off; and thus arrives Carmilla. Lara, quite reasonably, offers to call the police. Carmilla, suuuuuper suspiciously, demands that no police be called. So Lara takes her home and cleans her up.
Carmilla morphs almost immediately from a shell-shocked survivor into a darker, more seductive Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She leads Lara on a nocturnal romp through the woods, gets her wasted on slivovitz, holds her hand and later kisser her. Later still, when Lara is reluctant to follow her into her dark den beneath the castle, she curses and calls Lara a coward.
Little by little we learn-before Lara, of course-the truth of Carmilla's lust: she is a vampire, and her goal is to lead her victims to commit suicide, at which point they will join her in eternal unlife. And this flavor of vampire is not flashy: Carmilla's powers seem to be limited to immortality and a heightened power of persuasion. This is surprisingly effective. Carmilla is threatening because she convinces you that you want what she has to offer, not because she has rows of shark teeth or a weird insectoid proboscis thing (looking at you, Guillermo).
As young women in the local village start killing themselves, things slowly move toward their inevitable conclusion: Lara is given a choice between tainted immortality and a banal, lonely mortal life. The ending is, in fact, a major departure from the source material; this on its own is not necessarily bad, but it feels somehow incomplete. Still, it fits the reimagined setting of the narrative well enough, and the ending echoes the grim finality of Carmilla’s closing scenes (though again, the specific details vary considerably).
Julia Pietrucha steals the show as the smoldering Carmilla. She's a perfect choice for the vampire seductress, all good humor, alien beauty and grace on the surface, and sharp, cold violence underneath. Eleanor Tomlinson is a suitably damaged, timid Lara, and Jacek Lenartowicz is fun as the raspy-voiced, lecherous General Spiegel. Stephen Rea's Dr. Hill bears the burden of most of the film's exposition. He tells us, in a few slightly improbable scenes, most of what there is to know about his and Lara's past and their reasons for being in Styria. He's mostly a non-presence. This is makes a certain kind of sense in this version of the narrative, but leaves something to be desired.
Angels of Darkness is held back a bit by pacing issues, occasionally wooden dialogue, and a few unimpressive special effects, but ultimately it's a reasonably polished, enjoyable film, and a compelling version of the Carmilla narrative.
Video and Audio:
The entire movie is shot in that blue lens that is pretty much the industry standard for anything vaguely "horrorish." Otherwise it's crisp and suitably gothic. The audio is clear and makes good use of effects (primarily reverb for Carmilla's vampiric seduct-o-voice). There's a fair bit of The Clash-like '80s goth-rock, which fits the setting very well.
There are no special features on this DVD, not even a trailer.