The Shape of Our Inner Fears

Elizabeth Chege of the 2016 Berlinale Talent Press reviews Akiz's film DER NACHTMAHR.


Structured in the style of a dream, DER NACHTMAHR (in the Lola @ Berlinale section) centers on teenage girl, Tina (portrayed brilliantly by Carolyn Genzkow), who stumbles upon a strange and frightening creature after a drug-fueled late night rave. While initially it seems to be the outcome of her imagination, when the blind creature turns up in her home, we know it’s there to stay. This grotesque figure succeeds in terrifying her and the encounters morph into visceral, all-consuming experiences. To the detriment of Tina’s mental wellbeing, this apparition is only visible to her, which leads to fractures in her friendships and family relationships. With the threat of being placed in a mental hospital looming heavily, the only choice left is to find a way to deal with her new circumstances and protect her fragile psyche. After her psychiatrist surprisingly advises her to talk to the beast, challenges pile up when the creature refuses to obey. She soon realizes that she and her newly found companion are stuck together.

Artist and filmmaker Akiz aimed to portray the ogre as a manifestation of Tina’s fears. In a similar vein to Aronofsky’s REQUIEM OF A DREAM, Akiz uses camera techniques, non-chronological editing and color to convey the inner unravelling of our protagonist. We are often told to “overcome” our fears, but an interesting idea posited by Akiz is that perhaps there is something to be said about feeding those fears instead. After growing accustomed to the presence of the creature, Tina starts to literally feed it, suggesting that she is on her way to mastering her own phobias.

While the director succeeds at presenting teenage angst realistically, DER NACHTMAHR falls short of convincing us that the character’s journey evolves, even in light of what appears to be her final acceptance of the newfound state of affairs. The initial premise of a macabre psychological thriller is sidestepped when the director chooses to offset the story and moves in a disappointing direction in the final coda. Where the film truly triumphs is in its strong performances, stunning visual effects, non-linear structure and soundtrack whose dissonant score is in line with the film’s disorientating tone.