Home Video Hovel: The Unwanted, by Chase Beck
In 1871, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu used published works on mythology and superstition as references to write the first tale of vampire fiction. Carmilla, as it is known, is a work of Gothic horror that intertwines a fear of the supernatural with (what was then) sexual perversion. It predates Bram Stoker’s more popular vampire work, Dracula by 26 years, but the two share several story elements. Today, as a result of the popularizing of vampires, we are treated to a near endless variety of vampire films ranging from the comedic, to the dramatic, to the horrifying, etc. I even played a tabletop roleplaying game last weekend called Night’s Black Agents that mashed together the tropes of vampire fiction with the cinematic stylings of spy thrillers.
When I saw that a modern adaptation of Carmilla called The Unwanted had been made, I was interested and intrigued. Written and directed by Brett Wood, and relocated from the forests of Austria to the American south, The Unwanted is the story of Carmilla (Christen Orr), a drifter looking for information on her mother. When she meets Laura (Hannah Fierman) and Laura’s father (William Katt), Carmilla begins to unravel a mystery that threatens to destroy her .
The film is 96 minutes long and comes in Blu-ray format. The disc is with loaded with extras. These extras include two theatrical trailers, thirteen minutes of deleted scenes, a making-of documentary and a 17 minute short called “The Other Half”.
In the documentary, the actors describe the film as a southern gothic lesbian vampire love story and I suppose in that regard they are correct. No small amount of screen time is dedicated to sex scenes between the main characters, fueled, as the story tells us, by deeply seated neuroses due to the fears of abandonment and sexual abuse.
The film is slow, replacing any development of real story with drawn out soft-core sex scenes. The implied lesbianism of Le Fanu’s story is explicit here, while any indication of supernatural forces has become murky and uncertain. I can not fault the film for choosing to emphasize the eroticism inherent in most vampire stories except that here it seems to interfere with any clear development of story. Laura’s father, who in the original story, defended and protected her, is written as a lecherous and superstitious bigot, his face, more often than not, hidden behind his shoulder-length billowing white hair. In this adaptation, Wood has decided to dwell on the most common and offensive characterizations of southern people, namely incest and religious fanaticism. It would be interesting if it was not such well-trod territory
However, to its credit, the film is at times atmospheric, particularly when there is little dialogue. Throughout The Unwanted the writing can be stilted and poorly delivered. In many scenes the actors perform admirably and the directing shows a real understanding of film and storytelling conventions. At times though, the actors can not manage to deliver the dialogue convincingly. I am not entirely certain who is at fault, the writer/director or the actors but it is likely a little bit of both.