“A feeling with no name.”
Director AKIZ Producers Amir Hamz, Simon Rühlemann, AKIZ, Christian Springer Screenwriter AKIZ With Carolyn Genzkow, Kim Gordon, Wilson Gonzalez Ochsenknecht
Country Of Origin Germany 2015 Running Time 88 mins
‘Earplugs? Optional,’ quips Juliane Grieb for the BFI on this immersion in Berlin’s party scene with 17 year old Tina and her drug-taking friends. But dulling the senses is not something you want to be doing whilst watching the debut film from artist AKIZ. The pumping bass, flashing lights and rave colours are the real point of the DER NACHTMAHR experience.
What goes up, must come down. Berlin is famous for its club scene and AKIZ and his team of writers have captured the ‘adrenaline shot’ feel of this world and combined it with the psychological risks for a fragile girl at a crucial stage in her development who gets caught up in it. After the pounding bass has stopped pounding and the strobe lights are switched off, Tina is isolated and afraid. It’s almost as if some invisible monster is following her around, tormenting her…
Like Jennifer Kent’s THE BABADOOK which broke horror boundaries in 2014 by literalizing post-natal depression in the form of a terrifying monster, Tina’s fear is a real and present creature that won’t leave her alone. But the DER NACHTMAHR monster looks less like the babadook and more like David Lynch’s alien fetus in ERASERHEAD: pale and pathetic, screeching hopelessly and flailing its underdeveloped limbs around. DER NACHTMAHR is about fear and should have inspired fear, but it doesn’t. The psychological basis was there for a truly effective horror film and yet at the crucial point AKIZ opts for comedy instead.
Aside from this, the film skewers reality with sadistic relish at the vulnerable Tina’s expense, as any drug-fueled teen film should. Although the horror element withers, the tone is sufficiently dark and ominous and Tina (Carolyn Genzkow) carries this anxiety well, much of which is written on her physical body. She is a doe-eyed girl about to become an adult, still blessed by the nativity of adolescence but aware of her sexuality and attractive body which she flaunts in skimpy urban outfits. To explore her increasingly drug warped mind, the film cuts back and forth between time, between dream and reality, and nightmarish visions of death. Every time she tries to blend in with her friends and their lifestyle, the creature makes itself known. It’s no wonder Tina is a nervous wreck.
But above all, DER NACHTMAHR elevates itself with one stand-out scene that will surely resonate with anyone who spent their college years alternating between going to raves in the evening and hiding at the back of classrooms in the daytime. In this self-reflexive moment that hones in on the existential, magical realist element of the story, Tina, having returned to English class for the first time after having taken time off for her mental health, gets called upon by teacher to explain a William Blake quote. “Maybe it’s about a feeling” she says. “A feeling with no name.” Something about this being the only dialogue in the film spoken in English, and such a simple articulation of that struggle to express something that feels in the realm between childhood nostalgia and yearning for independence, says everything we need to know.
DER NACHTMAHR is a unique story that deserves to be in the Dare category. It certainly takes you out of your comfort zone and has your heart racing. It just needed a freakier looking monster.
The Final Word: A worthy simulation of the highs and lows of youth-drug culture
DER NACHTMAHR is showing at the BFI London Film Festival on the 8th and 10th of October.