The opening of German visual artist Akiz Ikon’s Der Nachtmahr features a title card that warns the audience that the film they are about to see contains binaural beats, strobe lights, and, cheekily, that it needs to be played loud. While Der Nachtmahr doesn’t sustain this rebellious punk spirit for as long as I would have liked, it IS a well-done coming-of-age, creature feature in the great tradition of films like E.T. but with way more crop tops, black lipstick, and leather leggings.
Rebellious Tina (an arresting performance by then-19 year old Carolyn Genzkow) is a disturbed teen living with her well-meaning, but clueless parents. Heavily into the Berlin party scene, Tina first begins experiencing breaks with reality after watching an online video of a girl being hit by a car. Imagining she is the girl, Tina passes out at a bacchanalian pool rave. Shortly after, Tina starts hearing bizarre clicks, grunts and chirps inside her home, which are revealed to belong to an odd, shuffling gremlin (which Akiz described as “an old man crossed with a fetus”) that eats her food and licks inanimate objects. As Tina’s life at home and the relationships with her friends begin to unravel, she starts to experience a symbiotic relationship with this weird little monster.
Der Nachtmahr generally has problems with consistency in tone as well as with the plot. The initial title card seemed to promise a nonstop pulsating party, but the film doesn’t manage to maintain this energy. The club scenes are intense, disturbing, and kinetic, but in contrast, the scenes in Tina’s solidly average suburban home aren’t nearly as frantic or as striking. Fortunately, Genzkow’s strung-out, cautiously optimistic performance is enough to keep the film interesting, as is her oddly charming little sidekick.
The film also isn’t great at keeping up a consistent mythology – sometimes only Tina can see or hear the creature, sometimes everyone can – but it deliberately plays with reality enough times that we wonder whether or not there really is a creature at all. Tina’s fondness for the creature also comes on quite suddenly, turning from repulsion to fierce protectiveness within one night.
For a film called that translates to The Nightmare, Der Nachtmahr, is not very scary. The creature is pretty weird, but it’s cute in a grotesque, pug-like way. The truly frightening part of the film is how Tina’s family and friends treat her supposed “mental illness” as they are all convinced she’s hallucinating. Tina’s parents stuff her full of pills and plan to shuttle her off to a psychiatric institution after she embarrasses them at a dinner party. Tina’s friends are more interested in chasing the next high than supporting her, and uninvite her to her own birthday party. The threat of isolation, a critical fear for teenagers, especially girls, is far more serious than any bug-eyed monster in your bedroom, and the film’s hilariously weird final scene indicates a peace with oneself, and the acceptance of the freak within us all.