Twist Week: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) Review

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Famed as the first movie to contain a plot twist, you’d be forgiven to overlooking a lot of the other elements which makes The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari so intriguing. For starters it has some stunning visuals. For a movie from the 1920s, it is a marvel in both character and set-design, containing “monsters,” creatures from coffins and a town with strange but creative markings, adding to the twisted nature of the movie.

It isn’t a complicated story. It follows the story of a Dr. Caligari who uses a Somnambulist to kill people. It is up to Friedrich Feher’s Francis to solve the mystery and expose Dr Caligari for the manipulative murderer he is. You wouldn’t expect much more from the movie and it lacks any depth or major details as you watch the characters fumble about for most of the run-time trying to solve the “mystery” at the heart of the movie.

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There are some impressive visuals in the movie

It doesn’t help that this is a silent film. There is something novel about watching a silent movie now that technology has made these sorts of movies obsolete. It is a wonder how effectively the story was told with a great soundtrack, text on-screen and “over-acting” by the actors involved.

The soundtrack is fantastic. Very creepy in places, setting the right tone for the movie when it needs to be. Of course, this is the 1920s so aspects of the movie have dated badly and it will hardly keep anyone awake at night, but there are moments which do startle with how troubling they would have been for the time period.

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Some of the movie is quite disturbing

The “plot twist” at the end of the movie manages to date it too. This review won’t spoil it but what would be considered quite groundbreaking in 1920 would now seem like a huge “cop-out,” probably leading to claims of lack of originality rather than applauded for excellent writing. It is a plot twist that has been done many times since but would require deeper layering rather than the quite obvious reveal that happens here.

Overall, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari will always have a place in movie history for being the first film to contain a plot twist. Other than that, the film is quite underwhelming, even if it contains a great soundtrack and tells a decent story considering the limitation of a silent movie. The twist itself won’t leave anyone impressed either really.

Rating – 2

(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)

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History-making but underwhelming


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