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A raucous mashup of It Follows and Basket Case with a touch of Spring Breakers, slick German nerve-jangler Der Nachtmahr is so teen-centric that over-25s may emerge deafened, exhausted and befuddled. Written and directed by the artist/filmmaker currently presenting himself under the nom d’ecran AKIZ, this savvily-marketed slam-dunk for genre festivals has obvious VOD and midnight-movie potential — not to mention scope for a Stateside remake.
World premiering in July at Munich before bowing internationally the following month in Locarno, it’s the second feature — after 2010’s druggily nostalgic Eight Miles High — by the man known to his parents as Achim Bornhak. A busy multi-media type evidently keen on self-reinvention, he was credited as AKIZ IKON when Der Nachtmahr first popped up as a eight-minute “teaser” at Slamdance last year.
Now billed under a rather more modest (but still all-caps) one-word moniker, AKIZ works with key collaborator ‘Philipp Virus‘ in filmmaking collective Pentagon. Der Nachtmahr — currently being shown and marketed internationally only under its original German-language title — reportedly kicks off a projected “Demonic Trilogy” covering birth, love and death.
The focus is a bizarre individual introduced here as a grotesque homunculus — a near-mute, bug-eyed critter who strongly resembles the malformed fetus glimpsed in the opening moments in cellphone photo of a museum exhibit.
When teenager Tina (Carolyn Genzkow) starts seeing this monstrosity in and around her comfortably middle-class home at night, the screenplay’s strong implication is that she’s experiencing some kind of mental distortion — exacerbated by her hedonistic, party-hearty lifestyle and the universal pressures of young adult life. But there are further twists in store.
AKIZ and company bring Tina’s world to noisy life with a heavy reliance on disorienting wide-angle widescreen lenses and abrupt editing cues. Visual and aural stimulation are paramount, as signaled by tongue-in-cheek pre-titles warnings about strobe-effects and hearing damage (“Anyway, this film should be played loudly.”)
A soundtrack of pounding EDM is uncompromisingly marshaled by underground legend Alec Empire (Atari Teenage Riot); a prominently-billed Kim Gordon (ex of Sonic Youth), who pops up for a distracting one-scene cameo as Tina’s English-teacher, contributes vocals to the song accompanying the credits.
All of this might come across as hip window-dressing from a painfully well-connected director who also counts David Lynch, Banksy and the Beastie Boys’ Ad Rock among his art-world patrons. But fortunately there’s enough going on in his head-spinning chinese-box screenplay — nightmares within nightmares — to justify the flashiness of AKIZ’s approach.
Crucially, the homunculus is a vividly-realized creation who quickly establishes “himself” as endearingly vulnerable rather than any kind of threat. At various points, “he” takes the position of Tina’s child, pal, pet and, in the final moments, perhaps a potential lover — the story to be continued, one presumes, in the trilogy’s second section.
With Genzkow front-and-center of nearly every scene, none of the other human players make much impact. As she becomes increasingly obsessed with her ‘visitor,’ Tina becomes progressively alienated not only from her well-meaning parents (real-life couple Julika Jenkins and Arnd Klawitter) but also her gal-pals Barbi (Sina Tkotsch) and Moni (Lynn Femme), and on-off boyfriend Adam (Wilson Gonzalez Ochsenknecht).
The real ‘nightmare’ here isn’t the scary-looking beastie who’s crept in from the Fuseli painting of similar title, of course. Rather it’s the dread specter of isolation and unpopularity which haunts so many post-adolescents as they contemplate the pulse-quickeningly scary challenges of adulthood.
Production companies: OOO-Films
Cast: Carolyn Genzkow, Sina Tkotsch, Wilson Gonzalez Ochsenknecht, Julika Jenkins, Arnd Klawitter, Kim Gordon
Director / Screenwriter: AKIZ (Achim Bornhak)
Producers: AKIZ, Amir Hamz, Christian Springer, Simon Ruhlemann
Cinematographer: Clemens Baumeister
Production designers: Anne Schlaich, Vera Koch
Costume designer: Laura Buchel
Editors: AKIZ, Philipp Virus, Anna-Kristin Nekarda
Composer: Alec Empire, Steffen Kahles, Christoph Blaser
Casting: Karen Wendland, Silke Koch
Sales: K5, Munich
No Rating, 88 minutes
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