Writer/director Bret Wood’s The Unwanted is the story of Carmilla (Christen Orr), a young drifter on the hunt to find out more information about her mother (Kylie Brown). Carmilla doesn’t have much to work with, but she does have an address that her mother supposedly lived at previously. The address leads her to a small mural town and the home of Laura (Hannah Fierman) and her father, Troy (William Katt). The address appears to be a dead end as Troy explains to Carmilla that no one else has lived at that home. Carmilla heads to the local diner to contemplate her next move.
At the diner Carmilla runs into Laura once more. Laura is a little tough to judge at first. At times she seems like she’s a bit emotionally unstable, but then it could be she’s just a small town girl looking to break out into the outside world. Whatever Laura’s deal is, she’s fascinated by Carmilla. The two begin to talk and Laura explains that while her father technically didn’t lie to her, he wasn’t completely honest. Turns out Carmilla’s mother stayed on a trailer located on Troy’s property for about 6 months.
From here on out we learn that everyone has some deep, dark secret they’ve been trying to keep hidden for years. As Carmilla begins to dig deeper to discover the truth about her mother, her and Laura begin to grow closer. This budding relationship greatly angers Troy, who believes he lost his wife to Carmilla’s mother years ago in a similar fashion and does not want to have the same thing happen with Laura.
If you’re familiar with Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” you kind of know where this story is going once you meet a character named Carmilla. At some point, it’s going to get to lesbian vampires. We eventually get that with Carmilla and Laura as they have a few blood-soaked intimate moments. Overall Wood takes a very loose approach to adapting Sheridan Le Fanu’s tale, giving it a more contemporary, Southern gothic feel. It just never all really comes together.
The story is a little slow, taking a bit before we actually get into it. Once we’re there, it doesn’t really make sense. Carmilla and Laura don’t have much chemistry. Laura certainly seems to have an interest in Carmilla, but none of it feels natural. And I suppose that’s part of the point, it shouldn’t feel natural, but there should be something that clicks.
The performances are iffy across the board. Fierman is far and away the highlight of the film. She seems to have a real knack for playing these adorable, but oddball characters that have a very sinister and dark side to them. With that said she tends to be a little uneven at times. I’m not sure if that blame falls on her or the script. Either way it would have been fun to see her take it up a notch. I’d love to see a director just let her loose for 80 minutes.
I have to talk about the music of The Unwanted. I don’t want to, but I can’t let it go. A few times throughout the movie a very generic rock music plays. I don’t know what it is. I don’t think it’s anything from an actual band, but rather something created by the film’s composer Paul Mercer. Whatever it is, it’s just not very good. The few times I was actually starting to get into the movie this music would play and totally take me out of it, so that was a bummer.
The Unwanted does manage to go out on a bang. The last 10 minutes or so are actually quite tense, despite that music rearing it’s ugly head once more. Part of it is even shockingly brutal. This is where Wood showcases his talents as a director and this is what I’d like to see more of. The overall idea presented here is pretty solid. Despite it having multiple adaptations, the story of “Carmilla” still lends itself well to the world of film. It’s possible with a bit more fine tuning, and much better music, Wood could deliver a piece of work that is more comparable to the likes of The Vampire Lovers or The Blood Splattered Bride. Unfortunately The Unwanted is not that movie.
The Unwanted is available now on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber with special features that include a making of documentary and a short film from director Wood.