Remaking popular movie has been a huge trend in Hollywood over the last decade. It can be argued that no other genre has seen more remakes than horror. Regardless of the varying commercial success of each remake, most efforts end up feeling like cash-grabs, borrowing too much from their original counterparts. This is not the case the with Bret Wood’s The Unwanted: a contemporary reimagining of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Victorian-era horror short, Carmilla. Le Fanu’s stories have often been put to film, including the notable Hammer adaptation from 1970, The Vampire Lovers. Yet, The Unwanted takes a bold leap, attempting to step out of the shadow of its obscure inspiration to stand on its own.
Abandoning the vampiric elements established in the original text, The Unwanted opens as Carmilla (Christen Orr) arrives in a small country town, on the hunt for her long lost mother. Equipped with only the address of her mother’s last known whereabouts, Carmilla meets local residents Laura (Hannah Fierman) and her father, Troy (William Katt). Although initially led to believe she’s reached a dead end, Carmilla befriends Laura and the two begin to seek out the truth behind the missing woman. The Unwanted sets itself up as a straightforward mystery, but ultimately at the film’s core is the emerging relationship between Carmilla and Laura. Too often do horror movies center on the immediate conflict of a female lead and company being stalked by a murderous entity. Although this approach has lent itself well to creating frightening sequences in the past, it little room for character development and growth. Standing in contrast to the conventional prey-predator formula, The Unwanted’s fixation on a more intimate relationship of its characters helps to give the film a more dramatic and sympathetic tone.
In comparison to other horror movies The Unwanted will undoubtedly come off a bit tame. There are not over-the-top depictions of gore or even immediate scares. This, however, does well in helping to establish the realistic space in which the story is set. With a greater emphasis on the actual drama between its characters, it’s fortunate that The Unwanted features convincing performances from its concentrated cast. The two lead actors come off as confident and natural in their respective roles: Orr as the strong and determined Carmilla, and Fierman as the timid and conflicted Laura. In general, the two actors have good chemistry and do well to complement their characters’ differing personalities. Staring opposite Orr and Fierman is veteran actor William Katt, best remembered for his role in Brian De Palma’s Carrie. While Orr and Fierman’s performances are well executed, Katt’s portrayal, somehow honest and suspicious, emerges as the film’s strongest, and leaves viewers questioning Troy’s motives up until the film’s climax.
In regards to its climax, the main spectacle of The Unwanted occurs at the end of the film. Remaining uneventful for the majority of the narrative, in the last ten minutes the film culminates into an emotional and bittersweet ending. Apart from a few shots that fail to match character eye lines, the sequence is well assembled. With a good mixture of close-ups, rack focusing, slow motion and appropriate music, the sequence helps the film to achieve its full emotional potential and impact on the viewer.
To call The Unwanted a faithful adaptation of 1872’s Carmilla would be to lie. In truth, the film pays modest tribute to Le Faun’s original piece, but never aims to outright retell its story. Instead, The Unwanted stands as its own character-driven tragedy, complete with a unique set of mature themes. It may not necessarily be scary or feature the staples that some fans crave, but Wood’s tale is entertaining; thanks to an effective cast, emotional emphasis and excellent finale.