Der Nachtmahr full movie review - Donnie Darko meets Enter the Void meets E.T.
17-year-old Tina keeps hearing and seeing a noisy food-craving creature at night that is sitting in the kitchen in front of the open fridge.
Are they dreams, hallucinations, is the creature real or is Tina maybe already dead (she has a potentially fatal accident very early in the film)? She starts off being terrified by the creature but as she finds herself unable to have it leave her alone she gradually gets acquainted with it and basically learns to live with it. Does this mean that she is getting better or worse? Is she learning to conquer her fears or is she only falling deeper into the rabbit hole?
This setup is far from unique, but the film feels incredibly fresh, bringing an authenticity to the proceedings that would be notable even for a straight drama, not just in the way the characters interact witch each other in the individual scenes but also in how the "plot" unfolds overall. It is also shot without the use of any artificial light, all hand-held (certainly not "shaky-cam", though) and doesn't seem to use any overdubbing for the dialogues either. What's particularly remarkable is that at the same time the film also is quite a visceral experience, thanks of course especially to the party scenes (which aren't that numerous) that are full of strobe lights and loud techno, but even beyond those scenes this "techno party feeling" that can in turns mean ecstasy or dizziness, bleeds to some extent through the whole film, creating an atmosphere somewhere in between 'Enter the Void' and 'Spring Breakers'. And even when things become quieter the film is paced in such a way that it always maintains a certain level of intensity.
The creature itself (an extremely convincing sfx) is terrifyingly ugly yet once you actually start to look at it and get closer to it it is weirdly cute in its small size, pathetic looks, and its nonthreatening slowness. This creature design alone already makes Tina's very gradual embrace of this thing understandable.
Occurrences involving the creature are presented as completely real, even though nobody else (primarily this concerns Tina's parents) get to see or hear it, and when they do seem to be able to see the creature or the results of its doings there always is some possibility that it might be the girl's own actions that they are reacting to. All this doesn't sound too original, but what helps the effectiveness of this, and what helps to keep the viewer doubting what's real and what isn't, is the fact that while it is clear that the film is told from a very subjective point of view, the way it is photographed give the images a certain sense of objectivity, the camera isn't particularly focused on its protagonist and the film is completely shot with wide lenses. This approach manages to lend a lot of credibility to the existence of the creature.
I think a stylistic choice that perhaps best exemplifies this combination of subjective point of view and the sense of objective camera is when during a few of the party scenes the viewer can't actually make out the spoken dialogue, and instead they are shown through subtitles (yes, pretty much like the nightclub sequence in "Fire Walk With Me"). The impression this leaves is that the camera (or rather the sound equipment) isn't able to pick up the dialogue over the loud music, but at the same time we know that Tina can hear the dialogue. I'd also argue that subconsciously this suggests to a viewer that even though in this case the film fills us in on what we are missing, the images and sounds may sometimes be inadequate to capture Tina's experience. So as much as the camera tries to document everything, the film itself is limited in how much it can get to the core of its protagonist (each person is a mystery, after all). Likely you will end up with a puzzle with missing pieces and it's on you to make sense of that mystery.
The following paragraph is more spoiler-y!!! Things are wisely left ambiguous even as the closing credits roll, even the extent of Tina's drug use is ambiguous, in retrospect I can't even remember seeing her have as much as a drink (well, a beer, maybe). Nevertheless it should be clear that she is a party girl who makes a lot of use of illegal substances which remain unnamed. 'Der Nachtmahr' does a good job of implying things rather than showing them without ever feeling vague. It would be too easy (and probably too reductive) to just write Tina off as a junkie who has lost her grip on reality. There are other aspects to her life that may have a lot of bearing on what Tina is going through. Perhaps most importantly there is a guy in her circle of friends that she is infatuated with, but even though he seems to quite like her too they don't quite get together and instead another girl keeps latching on to him. Naturally Tina hates her guts. From all the partying she probably also simply doesn't get as much sleep as she should and her relationship to her parents may also weight on her.
Achim Bornhak is a dedicated artist who works in several fields and with 'Der Nachtmahr' he realized a passion project that was 13 years in the making. It started out as just a work on a sculpture (the creature), which lead to associations and a narrative, resulting eventually in this art-house genre film.