After attending a rave party, a teenage girl forms a bond with a strange monster as she suffers a slow chaotic mental breakdown.
Carolyn Genzkow as Tina
Julika Jenkins as Tina's Mother
Arnd Klawitter as Tina's Father
Wilson Gonzalez Oshsenknecht as Adam
“It’s E.T. on acid.”
And while that’s a very apt tagline, it doesn’t tell the entire story of this strange, intriguing and emotional tale. Der Nachtmahr is a German film, shot entirely in Berlin on a budget of about $130,000. Most of the cast and crew worked for free – believing enough in the project to forego compensation.
Socially awkward and timid Tina (Carolyn Genzkow) is a 17 year old girl on the verge of turning 18. She frequents the party scene with her two best friends. They hang out at raves, party it up with DJs and experiment with drugs and alcohol. After one particularly hard night of dancing, Tina is the victim of a hit and run. Turns out she’s actually all right — not a scratch on her — but when she returns home, she begins to experience dark nightmares and has visions of some sort of Gollum-like creature in her house. No one else can see this skinless thing, and her parents eventually place Tina into therapy… but things (and appearances of the thing itself) continue to escalate. Eventually, Tina bonds with the mysterious creature.
Der Nachtmahr is a coming of age story, mixed with bits of horror. But most of all, it’s about the endearing bond between a young girl and an odd little monster. This very deeply connected friendship is where the film draws immediate comparison to Steven Spielberg’s classic, E.T.
As Tina, Carolyn Genzkow is quite remarkable. Only a few years senior to her character’s own age, she’s not far away from the awkward stage she so completely immerses herself into as Tina. It was interesting as director Akiz brought up one moment in the Q&A which I immediately found memorable. When Tina sees the creature in the kitchen for the second time, as it sits in a messy pile of opened and broken food containers – she forces herself (based on her therapist’s suggestion) to try and engage with the thing. Her physicality as she goes beyond her comfort zone to enter the kitchen and speak to the creature – it’s a very true and lovely moment for both Tina and Genzkow. Some of her other noteworthy work, comes in the form of a terrifying scene as her parents take her on a tour of a psychiatric clinic – where she may or may not be residing for a short time, as further examination may be required. But it’s the final moments of triumph when Tina prepares for a big event in her life that will leave you feeling relieved with tinges of pride for our young heroine. Per director Akiz, this was Genzkow’s first lead foray into feature films, and that makes her triumph as Tina all the more impressive.
The creature itself (referred to in the Q&A as “Der Nachtmahr” (the nightmare) is a wonder of design and puppetry. At first, it was unclear if the monster was CGI, but soon, it became obvious that this was (amazingly) all practical. Not only it is a marvel to watch in action – you will immediately fall in love – much like you did with E.T. I’m an avid toy collector, so naturally, I will now be on the lookout for a stuffed toy version of the creature. It’s just that adorable and quirky. Make note, filmmakers and marketing folks. Director Akiz is also an artist. He conceived of this creature long before he dreamed up a film in which the monster would star. His original inspiration was to be a cross between “an old man and a fetus”. Mission accomplished.
There are any number of theories which could be brought up when the film is examined. I heard that it could be a coming out story – Tina’s sexuality, or simply emerging from her shell and embracing the “freak” that she is? I even thought it could be a journey into the afterlife. The story is very cyclical, and that hit-and-run is revisited in the film’s final moments. A few of the reveals in the film (especially one particular video on a fellow party-goer’s phone) are quite perplexing and deeply disturbing.
The soundtrack is as pounding and loud as you’d expect (again, these girls are all about the club scene) and you should be warned (in fact, you are in the opening credits) that there will be lots of strobe lights and loud music throughout the film. It all makes sense within the story, even if some of the jarring music intros take a little getting used to.
There are a few good “boo” moments here, and some enjoyable tension, but in the end, the film is about Tina and her journey into adulthood and acceptance of who she truly is.
Der Nachtmahr is not your average, run of the mill horror film. It’s got some heart and some emotion mixed in with the scarier bits. And that heart will have you thinking about the film long after the house lights come up. I am also intrigued by the open-ended-ness of the film’s climax. Did Tina die? Was the creature real? Did anyone else ever see the cute little monster?
Catch a screening of this at your local film festival or keep an eye out for any DVD/VOD release dates! Der Nachtmahr won’t necessarily give you nightmares, but it will haunt you, charm you and keep you scratching your head. Isn’t that what good movies should do?