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online exclusive - march 29

the not too united states of carmilla

kirsten krauth: dave de vries debut feature, carmilla hyde

Camilla Hyde Camilla Hyde
Recently in RealTime, Jack Sargeant (see RT95) and Mike Walsh (see RT95) have argued for the critical discussion of Australian feature films to start incorporating the ‘invisible’: the B-grade, genre or Asian films that are screening to audiences at festivals like MUFF (Melbourne Underground Film Festival) or multiplexes in the suburbs to NESB audiences—the films not funded by Screen Australia, ones that tend to fall off the radar. These films are also gaining a following via the networking power of Facebook: even in early production, you can become a Fan, tracing the film as it’s being made, finding out about festival screenings, looking forward to its DVD release.

Dave de Vries’ feature film debut is a good example. Made on a self-raised budget of around quarter of a million dollars, Carmilla Hyde is a vamped up revenge flick that won Best Feature at the South Australian Screen Awards in March after winning Best Guerilla Feature and Best Supporting Actress (Georgii Speakman) at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival. Now it's been selected for the International Film Festival South Africa 2010. It’s a film that begs an undergrad audience with lashings of sex, drugs, rock’n’roll and girls in leather.

The central character Milly (Anni Lindner) is an androgynous looking and awkward woman, revealed to be a virgin, who spends most of her time in her room, reading, until drugged by her housemates in the callous hope of liberating her. Her alter ego Carmilla, is brought on by the mysterious machinations of her psychiatrist Dr Webster—who implants a trigger word when he hypnotises her, and introduces her to a special brand of red wine that, when sipped, unleashes the devil. The vengeful alter ego dons a long raven wig, red lipstick, fishnets and leather boots and is suddenly up for anything, including night-club stalking, back-alley sex and popping pills. The angel/whore dynamic is overtired, and nothing new is added here. It reminds me of the poor librarian in 80s videos who is turned into a goddess by losing the glasses, shaking her hair out of her ponytail and dancing in bike pants. It seems, as we watch Carmilla pash every girl in her sharehouse, and then observe her lasciviously watching a poledancer do a lapdance at a lesbian nightclub, that many scenes are about as tacky as when the lead singer in the band gropes all the starlets in a hiphop video. There’s lots of finger sucking and women having a go at the hubbly bubbly. It’s like watching soft-porn without the sex.

Writer-director de Vries comes from a background designing comics and he’s done well with the look of the film on a shoestring budget. At times it seems loosely based on Dangerous Liaisons (the Buffy version), with scheming women manipulating the desires of Milly (and her wooden lover Nathan [Cameron Hall]) and there’s the obvious titular reference to Jekyll and Hyde. The costume designer has gone to town—the women look at times like they have landed on some 70s sci-fi planet. The script, though, is full of holes, and the acting needs work. The psychiatrist, Dr Webster (Sam Tripodi), in particular, is so over the top that you half expect him to start rubbing his hands and cue an evil laugh. Perhaps that’s intentional but the serious subtext of the film—repressed memories of sexual abuse; men’s violation of women—makes it difficult to take. As the central character(s), Lindner lacks the experience to be able to transform from one character to another, without the help of costume and make-up. Unfortunately, the film’s premise (of altered states) brings to mind the brilliant United States of Tara, and Toni Collette’s completely convincing performance in bringing a number of personas to life; so much acting is in the head as well as the body. The music is so ‘dum da dum dum daaaaa’ that it reveals the mood of the scene before it’s even begun. And the film seems to slip between genres. With a lack of suspense, it doesn’t work as the ‘revenge thriller’ it’s hyped to be. The horror and sex are just glimpsed, not down and dirty enough to class as Ozploitation.

You get the feeling that de Vries needed someone to come in and help him with an honest appraisal. The script needs a good cut—the film could be chopped by a
third. There’s no really strong narrative drive. Characters have dialogue like: ‘We’re outta milk.’ ‘Okay.’ When Britt (Georgii Speakman) finds her friend bleeding in the shower, after a suicide attempt, she says, "Oh, you stupid bitch." A man from the alley comes into the house and terrorises the women for no reason other than the chance for a gratuitous tit shot in the shower. The male characters are moronic at best. And then there’s the house. The characters appear to live in a magnificent stone cottage by the beach with endless rooms, yet none of them seem to work. Oh yes, one of them says she is a student. Perhaps the rental market is different in Adelaide.

There’s something depressing about a character who, when it’s revealed she has thrown off her shackles of repression, is transformed into a woman whose banal idea of a good time is to go through the motions, seducing all the women and men in the room, always under the watchful gaze of other men (including those behind the camera). As a fantasy it could have dealt with some more experimentation or imagination. Nevertheless, de Vries managed to raise the funds to make it. I imagine with a tighter script, a reigned-in focus and more funds in his pocket, he might come up with something special.

Carmilla Hyde, writer, director, producer David De Vries, producers Fiona De Caux, Tony Ganzis, Andrei Gostin, actors Anni Lindnee, Nina Pearce, Georgii Speakman, cinematographer Maxx Corkindale.

Carmilla Hyde will screen at the Mercury Cinema, Adelaide, dates to be announced. DVD and Blu-Ray copies will be available online from August 2010 at

RealTime issue #95 Feb-March 2010 pg. web

© Kirsten Krauth; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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