- Vancouver, British Columbia - I know Halloween is over, but I figured that after watching this movie, I might as well share my thoughts on it. While preparing my character for Halloween, Count Orlok, I did a great deal of research by watching a collection of vampire movies. I think I overdid it because I wound up being haunted by the creatures in my dreams. That's not the first time this has happened when I try and take on a character. Perhaps it's part of the curse of being an actor... it can be difficult to shed the part. It makes me wonder what actor Max Schreck's process was for his chilling performance of Count Orlok in the 1922 classic Nosferatu. His depiction of Orlok was so chilling that there were rumours circulating that Schreck was an actual vampire. Of course, this is absurd, but a fun idea.
This is the premise behind Shadow of the Vampire. F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) is a director who is trying to make his horror masterpiece Nosferatu. With a number of the scenes shot, the producer (Udo Keir) is wondering who Murnau got to play the vampire, as any of the crew have yet to meet him. Murnau explains that Max Schreck is a method actor who becomes very immersed in the role and would only be seen in his full costume and make up. The crew accept this as they move to the countryside to film the portions of the film in the castle and to film the scenes with the vampire. They meet Count Orlok (Willem Dafoe) and begin shooting scenes with him. However, it doesn't take long before things go awry.
I quite enjoy the premise of the movie. I think it's a great idea to create a fictionalized telling of the making of Nosferatu and to give it a unique spin so it isn't just a biopic or dramatization of the events. I think, while you can't really take any of this seriously, it does offer some interesting perspective into how film making was done back in that day in age. Still, I can't help but feel a little disappointed by Shadow of the Vampire overall. Considering the premise, I would have thought that the movie would have been a little more fun.
There are aspects to admire about the film, for sure. Willem Dafoe gives a great performance as the vampire. He is creepy and sometimes even strangely amusing. He looks and feels like the vampire in Nosferatu, not replicating what the real Max Schreck did, but using it as a foundation for a whole new creation. I suppose without him, the movie likely wouldn't have worked at all. And at the very least, it seems that Dafoe is having a good time playing this part.
I actually like the cast overall. Even John Malkovich who, and I know not everyone will agree with me, can be a bit overrated. It's not that he's a bad actor... it's that he's an over actor. And sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't. This is one of those cases where it works because the events are so outrageous... I might be inclined to over act also! And it helps that Murnau seems to be losing his mind throughout the film.
One of the best aspects of Shadow of the Vampire is how it links with the actual Nosferatu film. It showed quite a few parts of the original movie and links it to the story of the current one. It's kind of ingenious. Of course, this can only be appreciated if you have actually seen Nosferatu, and preferably recently. If not, I fear that this fun crossover will go to waste.
So, with so much to like, it makes it all the more disappointing that the film wasn't a little bit better. It isn't easy to figure out what went wrong with this movie for me... but I think I have worked it out, though I don't know who specifically to blame. Part of it has to be director E. Elias Merhige, who doesn't seem incompetent, but rather tries too hard. Some of his directorial choices work very well, like how he blends the action from this movie with the action that is being filmed in the other movie (That's a tough one to explain... hmm...). But it seems that there are just as many moments where it gets a bit pretentious and goes for artsy abstract moments that detract from the story rather than add to it. The story just wasn't told in the most clear way and it left me wondering why some scenes were told in such an unusual (unintelligible?) way and why others were there at all.
Though, I don't think that is entirely the director's fault. I think some of the fault lies in poor editing. There were definitely scene changes that were strangely jarring and moments that could have been on the cutting room floor. This seems like nitpicking, but to be fair, this is a professional production that was even nominated for two Oscars. Bad editing should not be in the equation. Editing should be the unsung hero of a film. If done right it should be invisible. You should only notice it if either it is done exceptionally well or exceptionally poorly. I do not believe it to be the former.
And to answer your question, I guess the Oscars weren't too relevant. It was just Best Makeup and Best Supporting Actor for Willem Dafoe. I suppose those would be awards that I could get behind for this movie. I guess I just left frustrated because I saw so much potential in Shadow of the Vampire that I don't feel like it lived up to it. It's not horrible, but it could have been so much more. Having a great idea is only the first step to a great movie. There is a lot that can go wrong between that and a final product.
Rating: 2.5/5 Sour Grapes