Premise: Back in 1838, a real estate agent must travel to a remote castle to bring a client back to town, ignorant of the fact that the client is a vampire.
About: Yes, they’re remaking the classic, Nosferatu. If that scares you, it should help to know that the director is the same director who helmed 2015’s creepy breakout hit, The Witch – writer-director Robert Eggers. Eggers got his start in the business as a production designer, which would explain the lush attention to detail of that film.
Writer: Robert Eggers
Details: 111 pages
Double Disclosure. I was one of those people who didn’t like The Witch. I felt it was all ambience and zero story. Also, I’ve never seen Nosferatu. Sure, I’ve seen clips of it like everyone else. But despite its well known status as a classic, what I saw never intrigued me enough to make me go back and watch it. My assumption was that it was mostly about the creature design anyway. That the story would be bleh.
I’m hoping these two things aren’t a problem with this new iteration. I’m guessing that with more money comes more of a responsibility to make this market-friendly, and for that reason, both of my issues will be wiped out in one fell swoop. Let’s find out. On to some Nosferatu!
It is the year 1838. We are in the small seaside town of Wisburg, Germany. Real estate agent Thomas Hutter, and his wife, Ellen, have as rad of a life as you can expect in 1838. The only thing missing is a family and that should come as soon as Thomas starts making more money.
That opportunity presents itself when Thomas’s boss, Knock, informs him of a rich client who lives up in Transylvania who wants to buy a place here. There’s a catch. Thomas has to travel to him and bring him here, an excursion that will take two whole months.
Ellen, who’s had premonitions all her life, begs Thomas not to go. In the immortal words of Han Solo, she’s got a bad feeling about this. But Thomas wants to make that ching ching so he can get that bling bling, and goes anyway. Missssss-STAKE!
Needless to say, Thomas wakes up after the first night at Orlok’s castle with a giant bite-mark on his neck. Not only that, but Orlok has taken a creepy liking to Thomas’s picture of his wife, along with the lock of Ellen’s hair that he brought.
Note to all men: Do not carry a lock of your girlfriend’s hair near anyone named “Orlok.”
Meanwhile, back in Wisburg, Ellen starts having really fucked up sexual dreams and keeps telling anyone who will listen, “He’s coming for me.” I don’t think she means Thomas. The local doctor, Sievers, does everything he can to help Ellen, but she keeps going more and more insane.
Cut to a ship that’s now heading to Wisburg. What the crew doesn’t know is that that coffin they’ve agreed to ship to Germany? Yeah, that coffin has a vampire in it. Luckily, Thomas is racing across land to get back to Wisburg first. He instinctively knows that the extremely horny old man that is Orlok will stop at nothing to have sexy time with his wife. But I’m afraid it’s too late for that. Orlok is coming. And when he gets there, Orlok is coming.
Here’s what I’ll say about this Nosferatu. They did NOT sell out. This isn’t some made-for-Instagram-generation bastardization of a classic. While I’ve never seen the original, I’d be surprised if this new version was actually faster. Indeed, this story has all the expediency of a sailboat minus the sail.
What’s interesting about Nosferatu is that it doesn’t mine a single setting, like traditional horror films do, but rather jumps from location to location. We have the setup of Wisburg. Then we have the journey to Transylvania. Then we have the sequence at Orlok’s castle. We have the sequence of Ellen going insane. Then we have the journey BACK to Wisburg, from both Thomas and Orlok (one on land, the other on boat). And then we have Orlok finally in Wisburg (which doesn’t happen until page 75).
Why is this relevant? Well, with horror, there’s an expectation to hunker down and actually deal with the horror. When we’re jumping all over the place for half the movie before that can happen, it feels less like horror and more like adventure. And I suppose that’s okay if that’s what you’re going for. But, again, you’re working with EXPECTATIONS here. Horror audiences aren’t looking for adventure. They’re looking for horror. So if you’re not giving them a setting where horror can thrive, they get restless.
I wondered if this wouldn’t have been a better movie with Thomas AND Ellen traveling to Transylvania to meet Orlok. Staying in his castle. There are story trapping there as well, such as “How do you keep a story moving within a castle for a full 90 pages?” But there are ways to deal with that. You could’ve included some of the story in a spooky town just down the mountain from Orlok’s castle, for example.
It’s not that the story doesn’t work. Once we understand Orlok’s obsession with getting to Ellen, that plot engine keeps us engaged. Once you set up the expectation of something – assuming the components of that expectation are well-constructed – most readers will stick around to see the expectation met. Indeed, I wanted to see what would happen once Orlok got to Ellen.
But that want was more of a casual curiosity than a burning desire. I think that’s because the script introduced a ton of plot yet still managed to, somehow, feel slow. I just wanted to get to the promise of the premise. I mean, this script is titled “Nosferatu.” Let’s set this dude in a small town so he can start doing damage.
Sometimes we can fall in love with the history of our subject matter and give that precedence over the actual story. Sure, the whole Dracula on a ship thing is part of the lore. But did we really need to see that in this movie? Why not bring him and Thomas back in some spooky carriage ride, with Thomas wondering why they’re only traveling at night, and that way we’re back in Wisburg early?
Ehh, maybe I’m being too “Hollywood Executive.” Clearly this filmmaker loves slower more melodic storytelling. We’re all different. And, for all I know, he’s doing a beat-for-beat remake of the original. But that’s the thing. You DO have to respect the fact that it’s 2017. Not 1922. That has to factor into the storytelling. And I’m not sure it did.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: When you come up with an idea, you want to ask, “What is is that audiences want to see when they come to a movie like this?” This should help inform how to approach your story. I’d imagine people would want to see a creepy movie in a castle with Nosferatu, or a creepy movie with him back in this dark dying town, Wisburg, everyone slowly goign crazy after he shows up. I’m not sure audiences want to see the logistics of how a vampire travels. But that’s just me.