International Releases: Der Nachtmahr (2015) - Reviewed

The first time I heard of this still-without-US-distribution German sci-fi indie was casually browsing through Facebook and the image of a scantily clad teenage girl protectively clutching to a little extraterrestrial in neon-fluorescent blue and red colors was destined to get my attention.  After finally tracking down and viewing the Euro-music video infused “student film” however, I’m quickly realizing it’s better to keep scrolling past numbers like these on social media no matter how inviting the posters and premise appear to be. 

Before unveiling the opening title cards, a series of inter-titles warn the viewer of stroboscopic effects potentially causing seizures in some viewers appears before then suggesting that the film be played loud.  Starting out by ripping off of Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void with its epileptic foreshadowing before closing on copying Abel Ferrara’s Driller Killer, the cinematic debut of visual artist AKIZ (Achim Bornhak) and reportedly the first entry in a planned Demonic Trilogy is among the most shameless E.T. knockoffs to surface since Mac and Me.  It is also arguably the most aggravating look-at-me demonstration of “experimental visual technique” since Jonas Ackerlund’s misbegotten Spun.

While many are quick to read Der Nachtmahr (The Nightmare) as a teenage coming of age science fiction horror psychodrama about a young girl who after a hallucinogen filled rave party starts to see a Gollum like creature monkeying about her home, I saw a wannabe eager to display the influences hanging far from it’s sleeves.  When it isn’t blatantly stealing high watermarks from Spielberg’s 1982 classic, right down to the girl and creature feeling each other’s feelings with the Gollum being poked and prodded in plastic wrapped hospital rooms, it gives neither the poor girl nor her special friend much of anything to do but muck about in back alleyways or raiding the fridge leaving a mess echoing (again Spielberg’s) Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Der Nachtmahr received special attention for being made in Germany without the support of public broadcasting or film financing groups as well as going the Dogme 95 route of using natural lighting and set pieces without much additional dressing.  Fine and dandy, but the results here when they don’t look like a YouTube video with many blocky looking nighttime scenes like Ackerlund’s aforementioned misfire don’t have anything substantive to say about the experimental techniques being used other than ‘aren’t they cool?’.  Der Nachtmahr also arrives on the heels of the equally troubling yet comparatively infinitely better coming of age teen shock-horror fest Wetlands, a film I don’t necessarily recommend either but will take over the prospect of Der Nachtmahr a second time.

Every now and again a unique cinematic diamond-in-the-rough appears out of nowhere that can’t help but draw out my insect-like cinephile antennae searching for something truly unique.  From the outset, Der Nachtmahr appeared to be this experimental and surrealist cinema junkie’s cup of tea.  Upon actually sitting through it, I watched so much promise for offbeat provocation, technical innovation and sensory assault get all but completely squandered.  It isn’t so much that it nakedly rips off all of the right people, which it does seemingly with relish in scene after scene.  My problem with Der Nachtmahr is that once all the pieces taken from various sources are all in place, the film ultimately does absolutely nothing new with them.  


- Andrew Kotwicki