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NIGHTMARE

A film school set chiller that often feels like a student film in its amateurishness and poor acting. Yet the creepy/surreal narrative, pivoting LOST HIGHWAY-like on mysterious video camera footage, is a grabber.

The Package
     This 2004 film was shot in various NYC locations by first time director Dylan Bank. The “fiercely independent” production was inaccurately promoted as an art film upon its long-delayed DVD release in ‘09, but don’t believe it: it’s very much a horror flick, albeit a much weirder-than-average one.

The Story
     A hotshot film student, identified only as “the director,” picks up the alluring Natalya at a party one night. The following morning the two awaken to find a video camera trained on their bed. They watch the footage, which shows them gleefully massacring a man and woman they don’t recognize--even though neither has any memory of such an event and no blood is evident anywhere.
     Natalya heads off on her own with the tape in hand while the director reports to his film production class. There he pitches an idea to his classmates about a heavily improvised film inspired by his current predicament, an idea everyone likes. Yet the director’s life only becomes more chaotic when the following day he finds another videotape showing another murder.
     In casting his film project the director comes up with a burly guy who fits the lead roll extremely well, and casts Natalya as the female lead--in other words, as herself. The shoot is a fraught one, with the director feuding with his bitchy camerawoman and becoming extremely jealous of the onscreen relationship between Natalya and her co-star.
     Then comes the day when the director awakens naked in a forest with the video camera duck-taped to his hand. He immediately destroys the camera and hitchhikes home.
     The director comes to suspect Natalya of staging the crimes. This suspicion would appear to be confirmed when the director gets around to watching the latest tape, which shows Natalya killing a man during intercourse.
     From there the director unexpectedly awakens in a prison cell…only to wind up back in his film production class, and then on the set of his movie, and then back in prison. His reality increasingly dissolves into a morass of sex, blood and insanity that comes to encompass the movie without as well as the one--or more accurately two--within.

The Direction
     The opening scenes of this film aren’t promising. The atmosphere of bickering film students is marred by bad acting and overall feels inauthentic (take it from one who knows the film school milieu quite well). There’s also much overly literal dialogue and a few too many clichés (such as the audition process consisting of a montage of prospective actors that concludes with one last hopeful--who of course turns out to be the ideal candidate). The whole film has a low rent TV movie vibe, which has the effect of rendering the copious sex and gore far less troubling than it might have been otherwise (there are distinct conceptual similarities to the notorious SERBIAN FILM, and the connections between it and NIGHTMARE don’t end there).
     Yet the ingeniously twisty, hallucinogenic narrative, cleverly spiced with critiques from the protagonist’s fellow film students that apply to the film we’re watching as well as the movie-within-the-movie, nearly overrides the amateurishness of the enterprise. The filmmaking is also, despite its problems, quite assured, with an ingenious editing scheme that juxtaposes different scenes and levels of reality in a manner that suggests a long, sustained hallucination. Director Dylan Bank may display several technical shortcomings, but a lack of confidence isn’t among them. With more experience and better actors I’m certain he’ll become one of most important genre moviemakers on the scene.
 

Vital Statistics

NIGHTMARE
IFC Films/Merlion Entertainment

Director: Dylan Bank
Producers: Morgan Pehme, Ed Gregory, Geo Dickerson
Screenplay: Dylan Bank, Morgan Pehme
Cinematography: Valentina Caniglia
Editing: Yas Rowan
Cast: Jason Scott Campbell, Nicole Roderick, Amin Joseph, Noah Weisberg, Jennifer Carta

     

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