Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Vampyr, Carl Dreyer’s 1932 horror film, is visually interesting but also completely unaffecting. Especially when you compare it to his 1955 masterpiece, Ordet. It feels more like an undeveloped exercise than a fully thought out movie, with characters who act as they do because the script requires it and not because of any interior life they may lead. You could almost call it hackwork--if not for Dreyer’s fixed reputation as one of the greatest filmmakers in the history of cinema.

And indeed, Vampyr is marvelously filmed. When Dreyer’s camera isn’t smoothly tracking with his characters down hallways and corridors, it’s locking them in striking medium and tight close-ups that confine them to the very edges of the screen, as if they were the least interesting thing in the room. But excellent visuals just can’t make up for Vampyr's lackluster story and thin characters, even if the plot moves with more dexterity than it does in a movie like Ordet.

What’s missing is emotion. Ordet, if judged by its tableau staging--which links it more to the early days of cinema than to anything made in the middle of the twentieth century--and the slow...deliberate way...the actors...speak, just seems like it shouldn’t work. And yet, the sense of despair and joy suffusing the movie is stirring, and what it has to say about the power of faith is profound. It may well be the closest any of us come to witnessing a genuine miracle.

You’ll find nothing remotely as profound in Vampyr. It’s a genre picture, through and through, and worth watching if you consider yourself a cinephile, but otherwise, you’re better off sticking with Ordet.

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