Der Nachtmahr


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Der Nachtmahr
"Akiz has crafted a film which may fall down a little when it comes to special effects but which soars in its depiction of life on the brink."

It's an established joke in the short film community that every third film one sees will feature a strobe. Akiz comes from a visual art background and this, his first feature, incorporates exactly the kind of strobing that's dangerous to epileptic viewers, so unfortunately this film will be completely inaccessible to some people. There is a purpose to it this time, however, as there is to his request that the film be watched with the volume turned up. This is a film that's all about disorientation, and about youth culture. The confusion of adolescence blends with the intentional pursuit of new psychic experiences and the terror of unwanted experience that could be schizoid in nature or could represent the intrusion of a parallel universe.

Carolyn Genzkow is Tina, never quite at ease. Family conversations hint at a history of mental instability, whilst many viewers will be able to identify with her discomfort as she tries to fit in with fashionable friends who are probably experiencing the same angst themselves in private. To drown it out there are loud parties, alcohol and other chemicals. Tina has a boyfriend of sorts but sex is low on the agenda. Dancing is the thing, intimacy generated through music, punctuated by cruel taunts and games of one-upmanship. Tina's friends show her an image of a foetus to make her wince, then paste her face onto it to extend the joke. A boy shows her a video of a girl being hit by a car. Later that night, she finds herself kneeling in the road picking up fragments of a necklace when the same car comes rushing towards her; but then, just as it hits, she's back in a nearby garden. Her friends tell her she passed out. That's when the nightmare begins.

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Drawing on the imagery of Henry Fuseli with just a twist (too much) of Spielberg, Der Nachtmahr presents private terrors externalised, gradually taking on form. The creature that Tina begins to see in her home, which somewhat resembles the foetus image and has a troll-like desire to eat eggs, has an animist character, seeming to grow more real the more she believes in it. Conversation in the home grows strained. Friends distance themselves. It's frighteningly easy to become isolated. If it won't go away, a therapist suggests, she should try touching it, challenging her senses. In the void of her loneliness, she reaches out - but it's what happens afterwards that will lead to the film's most important confrontations.

Acutely aware of the smallness of teenage lives and the natural intensity of emotion that develops in the absence of healthy social stimulation, Akiz has crafted a film which may fall down a little when it comes to special effects but which soars in its depiction of life on the brink. Awkward camera angles make us question who is dreaming who; over-bright, beige-limned interiors leave no space for the imaginary. At the heart of the house, the void of a staircase yawns; in a psychiatric hospital a dead end becomes as important as any room; and yet the substantial gradually loses its power. Tina is ill-equipped for this. She makes clumsy observations about William Blake. She is bound to the life that has been imagined for her, and if she is to escape, reason alone cannot guide her.

Der Nachtmahr is provocative in a way guaranteed to get critics' backs up, but like that strobe, it's saying something. Genzkow plays her part hesitantly, holding back any urge to dominate. Tina is never in control but perhaps that shouldn't matter.

Reviewed on: 09 Sep 2015
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When she finds herself ostracised because of her visions of a strange creature, a lonely teenager decides to befriend it.

Director: Akiz

Writer: Akiz

Starring: Carolyn Genzkow, Sina Tkotsch, Wilson Gonzalez Ochsenknecht, Arnd Klawitter, Julika Jenkins

Year: 2015

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: Germany

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