The Phantom Carriage

The Phantom Carriage ★★★

A hallmark of Swedish cinema and a film that would go on to inspire the legendary Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, 'The Phantom Carriage' plays more like a slightly twisted version of the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge than an all out horror film showcasing a haunted reaper collecting the souls of the dead, and with that comparison, my disappointment is revealed. I know it's on me to have had an idea of this film in my head for years, but I had hoped it'd be much more macabre and menacing, dark and haunting than it was. Instead, the film opts to focus on the redemption of a newly minted "dead man," one who hasn't fully repented for the crimes of his past and the way he ushered in a life of drinking and mischief instead of the family life, caring for his own wife and children like he should.

Victor Sjostrom co-bills here as both director and cast member, starring as David Holm, a down on his luck drunkard who spends his time idling by, stone drunk, and sleeping away the rest of his days and nights. Mere seconds before the clock strikes midnight and rings in a Swedish New Year, David has an accident and finds his soul rising from his body, greeted by his deceased friend Georges. Georges (who died the following New Year's Eve) explains that the last soul to die before the New Year is responsible for driving the carriage of Death the following year, collecting all of the souls that pass. Once that year is up, the last person to have died before midnight will take the reins (literally and figuratively) on the new position, which David finds himself in now. Torn between his fate and not making much of his life when he had the opportunity, he's shown what was and what could be through flashbacks within flashbacks, eventually giving him the opportunity to redeem his name and make a change with his life.

In terms of the film itself, as it stood in 1921, I thoroughly enjoyed the acting here - it felt powerful and hauntingly emotional for a group of characters that were unable to let their voices be heard, considering it's a silent film. I also enjoyed the different colored tones (light blues, sepia, etc.) utilized to signify the difference between modern day, flashbacks, and flashbacks within flashbacks. Unfortunately, that final element wore thin fairly quickly, in my opinion, and it grew tiresome and confusing with ease. Again, perhaps going into it with different expectations, I might've had a much more warm reception for the film, but I was really hoping more darkness and nightmarish things were in store here, instead of the redemption tale of a poor old drunkard. In terms of the film now, I will say that this score that I had attached, which apparently derives from the Criterion restoration, was fantastically contemporary and just moody and appropriate enough that it didn't feel jarring or uncharacteristic. I had much higher hopes for this film as a whole, but it's not the worst silent film era experience I've had, and it's worth a viewing to at least admire the elements and moments that inspired the brilliant Ingmar Bergman and his filmography.

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