F.W. Murnau’s vampire piece, Nosferatu, is the first silent film I’ve ever seen and left quite an impression on me. The film, an illegal adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, follows the same basic narrative with some changes in an attempt to avoid litigation. We follow Thomas Hutter( Gustav von Wangeheim), a real estate agent, who treks on to Transylvania, to complete a deal with the infamous, Count Orlok (Max Schreck). What follows is an artistic take on the human response to fear and our attempt to deal with those bumps in the night.
Visual design here is impeccable. The Count looks terrifying with his extended fingernails and shocking facial appearance. He radiates an intimidating sense of dread. His reactions and movements are animalistic- unnatural and evocative. When the camera focuses on Shreck’s face, it’s almost as if the Count is staring straight into the depths of our soul. His portrayal throughout the film is haunting and truly represents a terror unbound.
What makes Orlok so mesmerizing is his symbolic representation. Whenever he’s mentioned or shown , it’s in reference to rats and the plague. He is somehow more than just a vampire- he’s fear itself. The silent nature of the movie only amplifies this. Because the film has no dialogue, the characters are almost forced into a sense of helplessness- they can’t speak to the horror so instead the actors/actresses have to convey the feeling of dread through immaculate reactions. In particular, Greta Shroder’s portrayal of Ellen Hutter is heartfelt and disturbing. Seeing her reaction to the Count emphasizes the immensity of what he actually is.
Lighting is also used well, not only to indicate the passage of time, but to reinforce themes. Night is associated with Orlok- emphasizing our instinctive fear of the dark with the realm of the Nosferatu. Light is primarily associated with Ellen, highlighting her strange relation with the Count and serving as a beautiful example of foreshadowing.
The film should be viewed in mind of what was being attempted. No, it’s not scary in a traditional way. You won’t jump away in fright at Orlok and the acting might seem exaggerated, especially compared to films right now. Personally, some moments felt funnier to me. Having to read read highly stylized font also presented a unique set of challenges (pausing and squinting my eyes). But if you can get past those small hurdles and view the movie as a more abstract take on human emotion and our responses to fear and the unknown, you’ll walk away feeling haunted.
TLDR: Nosferatu, is a mesmerizing and artistic take on fear and our response to the same. Great set design combined with just the right acting evokes a haunting presence.
Final Rating: 9.5/10. If you like German Expressionism, want to see an artistic and pure take on Dracula, or enjoy vampire movies check this one out. To anyone who enjoys film as an art form, this is definitely something you would appreciate.
Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!