Thursday, 12 November 2015

"Nosferatu," F.W. Murnau, Film Review

I've reached a milestone this week as I have now watched all of the first two hundred films in the IMDB Top 250 film list.  Not only have I watched them but I have also written my writer's notes on each one and given a (slightly psycho-ish) score out of ten for every one.  It's been a hugely enjoyable activity to watch one of these films every week over the past years.  Apart from the entertainment value, I've learned an awful lot about plot, character, pacing, dialogue, framing etc etc along the way.


Number 200, at least when I first wrote the list down about five years ago, is F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu.  (In case you're wondering, I haven't watched them in order.  That really would be psycho-ish.)

The thing that struck me immediately about this film is the attention that has gone into framing every shot.  There are a lot of static shots, around which the characters run, glide and creep, each one set up with the composition of a good photograph.  The effect is rather theatre-like, although with an awful lot of scene changes.  There are common themes such as arches that link these shots.  Many also have a heavy distinction between shadow and light to the extent that the line marking the edge of the shadow adds geometric elements to the composition.

Review continues below...

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There is a pleasing amount of ambiguity in the film.  The cards that pop up from time to time, supposedly to help the viewers understand what's going on, are often incomprehensible.  They add to the strange, uncanny atmosphere of the film, with their cryptic words and Gothic fonts.

The association with vampires with other creatures that can infect blood such as mosquitoes and plague-carrying rats is a nice idea, as well as the (rather cheap) link between evil and disease and madness in general.

Speaking as the father of a young child, I noticed quite a few connections with Beauty and the Beast in this version, from the enchanted and sinister castle to the cart journey through the forest to reach it, and the requirement of the willing participation of an innocent girl to break the spell.  Bizarrely, given the audacity of the vampire plot, some magical elements from Beauty are made more realistic, such as the slightly implausible location of the vampire's new home (a huge ramshackle deserted building) opposite the hero's house.

It's a creepy and effective horror film and it's one of those films on the list that I'm looking forward to re-watching.

Personal Score: 8/10

This is part of a series of film reviews where I give my comments on IMDB Top 250 films as a writer. The idea is that over time these posts will build into a wide-ranging writing resource.

For more details about the approach I've taken, including some important points about its strengths and weaknesses (I make no claims about my abilities as a film critic or even the accuracy of my comments... but I do stand by the value of a writer's notes on interesting films), see my introductory post here.

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