Tina’s life becomes unhinged when the nightmares begin. The 17-year-old has loving and well-off parents, a bunch of friends, and enjoys the summer in Berlin with parties, alcohol and drugs. But neither her parents nor her friends believe her when these nightmares become true, when a creature – crippled, blind and ugly like a mixture of Gollum and ET – appears in her parents’ house. Only her psychiatrist advises her to make contact with the creature.
Der Nachtmahr, literally a “nightmare” in German folklore, is a demon that causes bad dreams. The creature is Tina’s fears incarnate, blurring the lines between these dreams and reality. Directed by German visual artist AKIZ (born as Achim Bornhak), this fast-paced indie-horror story of teenage rebellion skilfully depicts a feeling of being lost, “a feeling that has no name”, as Tina (Carolyn Genzkow) describes it while analysing a poem in one of the calmer, more powerful scenes.
By embodying Tina’s fear, AKIZ makes graspable an otherwise difficult to understand feeling. When the real creature discovers Tina’s razor and accidentally cuts his tongue with it, Tina wakes, spitting blood. The message is simple: the creature is part of her, and her fears have repercussions on her physical constitution. Carolyn Genzkow convincingly represents Tina’s spiritual abyss, and how she slowly comes to terms with these fears, even befriends them, while bringing her family to the verge of despair. Despite trying their best to support their daughter, her parents ultimately fail to understand.
Der Nachtmahr is more than a coming-of-age film: it deals with teenage confusion and inner demons, but also touches on mental illness. Like the minds of teenagers, however, its message is often befogged. By making mental institutions the enemy, it fails to lessen the stigma on mental illness. Even though the film aims to dig into a teenage girl’s subconscious, it still only seems to scratch the surface and it isn’t as frightening as it may seem. Its striking images nevertheless make for a visually exciting trip into the brain of a teenager, while the powerful soundtrack adds to the pace of the narrative.
Loud, and with plenty of strobe lighting, the film attempts to tell the viewer to accept people the way they are, before their inner demons climb into the driving seat and take control.
Der Nachtmahr does not have a UK release date yet.
Watch the trailer for Der Nachtmahr here: