A lonely girl called Lara befriends a young woman named Carmilla after saving her from a car accident. The two become close friends, but when Lara realises a dark and dangerous intent lies within Carmilla, she tries to keep her distance.
Angel of Darkness (AKA The Curse of Styria or Styria) is a classic example of a film that is of two halves. In the beginning there is an almost dreamlike quality to the sound and visuals; organ-heavy music, an eerie wooded location and a dark, looming castle create an unmistakeably gothic atmosphere that is quite beautiful to gaze upon. Inside, the castle is vast, grey and filled with empty room that are lit by candlelight. It’s the perfect setting for a supernatural, gothic story, so what exactly goes wrong?
Unfortunately, when the dark and gloomy atmosphere, grey hue and spooky location loses its marvel your attention will diminish, because the story quickly loses focus. When you are introduced to the introverted Lara (Eleanor Tomlinson) and the strained relationship between her and her father Dr Hill (Stephen Rea), the film begins as an interesting exploration of teen angst, loneliness and identity. However, it soon becomes a tired and muddled tale with very little to say about its initial concerns. The film is set up as a complex character study about a mysterious girl, shrouded in quiet menace and mystery, but soon becomes a silly and generic story that feels more like The Moth Diaries than Dracula.
The film may ultimately fail in terms of storyline, but there are pieces of the whole that are almost worth sticking around for. The two main actresses work wonderfully as polar opposites; with Julia Pietrucha’s Carmilla representing the dark core of Eleanor Tomlinson’s Lara. Lara’s dark exterior shows a hint of the menace that she is capable of, but it is only when she bears literal witness to evil that she can full embrace her dark side. The two take midnight trips to go skinny dipping, exploring the dark corners of the castle and get emotionally and physically closer to one another. There is an unmissable lesbian subtext to this story which works as an interesting extra layer to the film, further emphasising Lara’s loneliness and her desire to combat it, but it also exposes the power that Carmilla has and her ability to lure her ‘victims’ in to carrying out her malicious intent.
It is mainly upon reflection that the film’s cracks become clear, because despite its flaws, there is something captivating about Angel of Darkness. It is something that is easy to stick with, because you never know what’s truly going on beneath its murky surface. It entices you like a moth to a flame and you can’t help but feel mesmerised by its enchanting secrets. Much like Lara herself, you’ll be intrigued to know how this all ends and whether she will get the happiness that she so deserves. The film is a tease for something greater, because its captivating exterior is nothing but a facade, that when removed, reveals a tangled centre that is not worth revealing. By the time the film ends you’ll be left disappointed and cheated, wishing that you’d be dealt something more composed.
In the end, Angel of Darkness tries to do too much with a concept that should have been held tighter with a more confident direction. There is an interesting history and mythology at play here, but the film’s arty execution, onslaught of sub-plots and themes are distracting, causing the narrative to feel muddled and uncontrolled. The narrative strands should weave together and the film’s pieces should fit together easily, but instead, they feel like they are forced in to place. This is a stunning showcase of a gorgeously gothic atmosphere, seamless cinematography and location, but the perfection is lost in the convoluted and confusing storyline. There is definitely an interesting, poignant and chilling tale here, and it’s a shame that Angel of Darkness feels like little more than a barrage of beauty with a heap of potential for greatness that is never quite met.
Words: Jessy Williams (@JessyCritical)