Going in to this movie, I wasn’t really familiar with its influences, background etc. I did some digging and found that it is a re-imagining of an early vampire novel called Carmilla, that actually predates Bram Stokers Dracula. The book was set in 19th Century Austria, whilst Angel of Darkness is set in Eastern Europe in the late 80’s.
It starts with really picturesque scene and some wonderful scenery. The Gothic castle, fog filled forests and, when shown at night, you get a real sense of an area steeped in dark history. Perhaps a history steeped in witchcraft and local ‘old wives tales’. You really do get a cold, dark sense of tense apprehension
The movie starts with Dr Hill (Stephen Rea) and his daughter Lara (Eleanor Tomlinson) crossing the Hungarian border en route to an old castle in the town of Styria. Dr Hill is an archaeological art expert and is there to study the castle wall paintings before the place is demolished. Lara is a troubled young woman, expelled from her last school for attacking a classmate (which she denies) appears to be withdrawn and has scars on her arm which tell their own story.
While Dr Hill is doing his restoration work, Lara goes for a walk in the woods that surround the castle and sees a car veering into a tree. Bloodied and battered, the driver stumbles out of the car only for Lara to witness another car attempting to run the woman down. Lara shouts out to warn her, the girl evades and the car heads off into the distance.
This signifies the arrival of Carmilla (Julia Pietrucha) into Lara’s world. They befriend each other with Lara offering to help her, as anyone would, having witnessed what she did. Quickly, Carmilla goes from a shaken-up car crash survivor to a smouldering temptress eager to entice Lara.
As the movie progresses, we learn that Carmilla is of course a vampire. Her lust for Lara is driven by her goal to lead her victims to commit suicide and thus joining her in her world. Carmilla’s character is not the sort of in your face “I want to bite you” vampire. She is cunning, manipulative and uses Lara’s fragile mental state to convince her into playing along. No doubt a clever and calculated character, and sharp yet violent underneath.
The tricks of the mind often (and cleverly) blur the edges of reality, which is something Angel of Darkness does brilliantly. You are taken on a ride in Lara’s mind through the woods, and you too are there falling for Carmilla’s seduction. And, like any good seductress, she convinces Lara that whatever it is she has, Lara needs it too.
As the movie progresses, more and more younger women in the village succumb to the promise of immortality and start to kill themselves. Lara must decide if she wants this or the troubled life she leads. Angel Of Darkness does go on to show you the struggle Lara faces once the villagers start to realise what’s actually going on, and set out to banish the likes of Camilla once and for all.
When the movie does reach its end, there is a grim realisation that faces Carmilla juxtaposed against the end that Lara chooses. Without spoiling it I did feel it was building to a crescendo that didn’t ultimately come, but it’s worth persisting with.
One thing I will say about Angel of Darkness, is that it is a beautifully shot film. It makes you want to walk the corridors of the castle itself and explore its surrounding wood. Yes, there are a few lulls, and I think with some clever edits the pace could be quicker. For me, the film had some potential to have a different slant on the traditional vampire movie, but in the end doesn’t seem to really make up its mind which way to go. It would be good to know if you agree!
(Angel Of Darkness is now available to buy on DVD)
Review by Mal Jutley (@maljutley)
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