The Phantom Carriage

The Phantom Carriage ★★★★★

I haven't seen too many silent films, but from the few I've seen, none have matched the power, atmosphere or emotional impact The Phantom Carriage achieves.

At once a spooky ghost thriller, an emotional melodrama and a thoughtful moral narrative, Victor Sjostrom's The Phantom Carriage engaged me more than any silent film, and few films in general, ever have. Our lead, David, a despicable drunkard played by Sjostrom, comes off initially as one of most vile protagonists in early film history (The guy basically tries to give people tuberculosis). However, as the film progresses and the circumstances of his situation become more apparent, he becomes more and more engaging. A character that seems somewhat over-the-top at the film's outset gradually becomes more real as we progress through the story. This all finally culminates in the last few moments in which his long awaited redemption is finally earned.

Sjostrom's direction masterfully handles the material in a way that elicits many different emotions at once. From The Phantom Carriage's opening moments the ghostly atmosphere becomes immediately apparent. Even before our eerie titular carriage even appears, the film's creepy pacing and performances help produce an unforgettable mood. Among all the spookiness, however, you can't help but feel the grief and longing each and every character at the centre of the narrative goes through. I'm not used to being as affected by a silent film as I was with The Phantom Carriage, but it is certainly a welcome change.

Finally, I can't leave this review without mentioning The Phantom Carriage's special effects. Again, I haven't seen a ton of early silent films, but I'm sure this film must have blown people's minds in 1921.

If you're at all interested in early film history, I implore you to check this one out. It is by far one of the most overlooked films in early cinema history, and in my opinion much better than a lot of the more popular films from the era.