Shadow of the Vampire (July 15/01)
Shadow of the Vampire takes a really great premise - the "actor" playing the vampire in the classic film Nosferatu really was a vampire - but never quite achieves liftoff for a variety of reasons (the most prominent being director Elias Mereghe's delusions of grandeur, but more on that later).
John Malkovich stars as acclaimed German director F.W. Murnau, while Willem Dafoe stars as Max Schreck, the star of Murnau's latest film, Nosferatu. Over the space of just over 90 minutes (though not really, since the opening credits go on for a whopping 6 minutes), we see Murnau attempt to make the film while appeasing Schreck, who wants to eat all the crew members (particularly the female star of the movie).
Shadow of the Vampire is entertaining enough, I suppose, but it never really passes beyond the level of mediocrity. The fault of this is certainly not with the actors. Dafoe, completely unrecognizable as the vampire, is especially good - he plays Schreck as a wild animal that has been unwillingly tamed. During scenes in which Murnau attempts to give him directorial advice, Schreck often looks confused and irritated. He'd obviously much rather be feeding upon those around him, rather than performing for them. Malkovich is similarly good, as the director that eventually goes completely mad. Murnau is portrayed as a genius with absolutely no regard for the safety of those around him (I mean, really. After the first vampire-related murder, you would think he'd shut down the picture, if only to save the money it'd cost to replace the dead crewmen).
And the screenplay isn't half bad either, if a little one-note. Once the general idea of the movie creeps into play (insane director is almost as much a monster as a vampire), the movie doesn't really go anywhere. And the movie is awfully pretentious. Mereghe's mise-en-scene often resembles an arty post-grad film project. Combine Mereghe's heavy-handed intentions with an equally ham-fisted denouement (the aforementioned decent into madness by Murnau), and you've got an incredibly uneven flick.
But the performances are basically enough to warrant a viewing. Shadow of the Vampire would've been a lot more entertaining if it had been about an hour shorter and stripped of its self-conscious flourishes.