Shadow Of the Vampire

Review Date:
Director: E. Elias Merhige
Writer: Steven Katz
Producers: Nicolas Cage and Jeff Levine
John Malkovich as F.W. Murnau
Willem Dafoe as Max Schreck
Udo Kier as Albin Grau
Based on some actual events and a healthy dose of make-believe, this story takes a behind-the-scenes look at director F.W. Murnau’s making of NOSFERATU. With all of the cast and crew on board, the director brings in an unknown to play the lead vampire. The man in question likes to remain in character at all times, and ultimately draws fear from others on the set. The question now becomes, is he really a vampire or just a method actor “becoming” the part?
A film that is sure to appeal to the art-house crowds more than the mass audiences, this film gives us a super-creepy performance by Willem Dafoe, some very cool atmosphere, a unique style of direction and an okay story. I wasn’t bowled over by this story because it was difficult for me to come to grips with the whole reality vs fantasy elements of this movie. I mean, the film is obviously based on real people, a real movie and a real movie production, but many of its elements are purely fantasy-based and made up, so I was sorta left scratching my head at certain points (if you see someone grab a bat and devour it right in front of you, wouldn’t you “kinda” think that he “might” be a vampire?). I guess I would have rather seen the whole film made completely as a fantasy or an ED WOOD type scenario, in which all of the actual events are portrayed, but this point didn’t really spoil my viewing. In fact, I quite enjoyed the movie as a whole, loved the way Merhige shot the actual scenes in color and then transformed them into black and white when the “film within the film” began to shoot, and appreciated the dark and mysterious mood of it all. But I guess that I might’ve been expecting a little too much in the first place.

Critic or not, I am but a person, and that definitely happens sometimes, especially when you’ve heard about a movie for such a long time, and anticipate it so. This is the kind of movie that I, or anyone else for that matter, will likely enjoy more on video or DVD. It’s slow-paced and doesn’t really follow any conventional arc of a story, feeling much more like a documentary based on the possible events of a film production, rather than an actual film created to entertain. In fact, the film is original in that sense, since it rarely possesses any real thrills, suspense, romance, humor or action, but does still manage to keep you interested throughout (well, at least it did me). I definitely don’t think this film will work for everyone, and it certainly won’t work for anyone looking for a horror type of movie, or a slasher with blood, etc… In fact, this movie barely sheds one drop of any blood. It’s really much more about the ambiguous nature of the lead character and the full extent that the director is willing to go in order to get his film made. Does that sound interesting to you? If yes, check the movie out. If you’re not really interested in that aspect of the film, and don’t particularly care to see one of the most bizarre portrayals of a “man” on screen in the past few years, that would be Willem Dafoe, I’d say skip it altogether.

I liked it and I certainly look forward to catching it again on DVD real soon. And if the Academy doesn’t toss Dafoe a nomination for this memorable role, it will all but assure the fact that they’re filled with a bunch of dodos (since we all expect them to diss Christian Bale as well).

(c) 2021 Berge Garabedian

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