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BFI London Film Festival: ‘Der Nachtmahr’ a shifty, unsettling debut feature

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Der Nachtmahr
Directed by Akiz
Written by Achim Bornhak
Germany, 2015

German nu-techno artist Akiz opens his debut film with a meek disclaimer to ‘play this film loud’, a rare moment of quiet trepidation before all sorts of sonic and symbiotic hell breaks loose. Tina (Carolyn Genzkow) and her teenage friends are veterans of the decadent Berlin party scene, imbibing a heady cocktail of thrills, pills and bellyaches, and dancing until the dawn. One night, her nocturnal antics get out of hand after she passes out, and in her comatose condition, she nets a dark creature of the id, a grotesque gnomish monster which starts to stalk Nina at school and at home, much to her distress. Whether this abominable apparition is real or a hallucination fueled by her narcotic disintegration is kept close to the film’s nerve-pummeling chest, as physical manifestations of the creature conveniently materialize as the possible antics of Tina’s own frantic mind.

This feisty, misshapen hybrid of Spring Breakers and horror cult classic Basket Case largely succeeds in its evocation of the skin-crawling gremlin haunting Tina’s ecstasy addled-mind, although the film’s overt objectives are less evident, more misshapen and smothered in its murky narrative. The crushing pressure of adolescent cliques and the social pressure to excel romantically and academically are furtively framed; it’s a depiction of modern teen life akin to the work of Larry Clark, although thankfully it lacks his disquieting fascination with underage sex and skin, preferring instead to leech upon a blend of malingering mood and pulsing EDM acoustics.
Der Nachtmahr

Carolyn Genzkow has something of a young Nina Hoss in her slightly implacable demeanour, delivering a convincing and spirited performance as a young woman on the edge of a Repulsionesque breakdown, while the jarring cuts between the domesticity of Tina’s comfortable middle-class home life and the gabba- and strobe-drenched bacchanals are enough to keep even the most torpid viewer on a slightly chittering, nervous edge. The creature effects are as modest as you’d expect from such a zero-budget affair, but crucially the symbiotic cord between Tina and her parasitic phantom is not threatened by the modest SFX work, as her initial dread slowly thaws to a gnawing acceptance of her plight. Alternative music fans should also revel in a rare screen appearance from Sonic Youths Kim Gordon as Nina’s mildly concerned English teacher, blessing the film with a DIY credibility that is more generationally in tune with our heroine’s bemused, career-focused parents. This is a promising debut, fluid in affect and structure, a malleable mix of music and visual tones which suggests agreeably nebulous things to come from Akiz.


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