Der Nahctmahr starts very well. The intense trance atmosphere a visually blinding flicker of strobe lighting and a pounding techno soundscape slides us into a certain frame of mind (even if all the mock warnings that the film opens on about this never have any relevance to the rest of the film). We are instantly drawn to the frail, nervous Carolyn Genzkow who seems to exist almost entirely as a set of long, tall legs. As she starts seeing things, Der Nachtmahr seems to be heading in the direction of its Rodney Aschers The Nightmare and its fascinated delving into the realm of reality-bending dream states. For a time, Der Nahctmahr feels like it has been construed as a feature-length spinning out of the central image of Henry Fuselis painting The Nightmare (1781). Akiz tricks it out with allusion to other fantastical creatures in the arts with an English class discussion on the poems of William Blake and where the teacher is played by no less than Kim Gordon, the bassist/guitarist of cult band Sonic Youth.
The scenes with Carolyn Genzkow trying to deal with the existence of the creature and being disbelieved/ridiculed by peers and family are familiar ones for anyone who has watched enough genre films see everything from the original Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973) and the Nightmare at 20,000 Feet segment of Twilight Zone The Movie (1983) to Communion (1989), Absentia (2011) and the recent The Babadook (2014). The disappointment of Der Nahctmahr is that it never ends up being as interesting as all of this suggests it is going to be.
About the point where Akiz lets all of this uncertainty and dream state telescope down into resolution, Der Nachtmahr undergoes an abrupt tonal shift. Here it is no longer a film about a girl dealing with the eruption of the intensely uncanny and becomes more akin to E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) following her discovery of a (never-explained) empathic bond with the creature and as she rescues it from imprisonment by authorities. The film does reach an interestingly odd ending I kind of liked seeing her become its protector and the final image of them driving off together, not to mention the way the film never deigns to offer any origin for it but it never recovers from its lurch from the uncanny to the cuddly.
(Screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival)