The Movie Waffler New Release Review - NIGHTMARE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - NIGHTMARE

Nightmare review
A young woman is impregnated by a demon from her dreams.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Kjersti Helen Raasmussen

Starring: Eili Harboe, Herman Tømmeraas, Dennis Storhøi, Gine Therese Grønner

Nightmare poster

For as long as I can remember I've had a recurring nightmare in which I'm attempting to flee from someone or something but find myself unable to move my legs, as though they're embedded in cement. It's absolutely terrifying but at least when I wake up the experience is over. Spare a thought for those who suffer from sleep paralysis, a condition in which your body goes to sleep while your mind stays awake, leading to dreams and nightmares that blur the lines between the subconscious and the conscious.

Norwegian writer/director Kjersti Helen Rasmussen opens her feature debut Nightmare with some text explaining the phenomenon of sleep paralysis. Later on the film reminds us that the word "nightmare" is derived from Nordic folklore. A creature from the spirit world known as a "mare" sits atop its sleeping victim and if said victim is female, impregnates them as a means of entering our physical world. With this newfound knowledge in mind, I don't think I'll ever refer to a bad footballer as "having a mare" again.

Nightmare review

The nightmares begin for Mona (Eili Harboe) when she moves into a spacious apartment with her outwardly timid yet controlling dick of a boyfriend Robby (Herman Tømmeraas). The couple got a great deal on the place because a previous tenant committed suicide while pregnant, which has wrought havoc with its property value. Almost immediately Mona begins having lucid dreams. Initially they're pleasant, with a sexed up Robby seducing her and leading to orgasms in the physical realm that the real life Robby probably hasn't been able to replicate.

Of course, things take a dark turn as the dream Robby grows ever more sinister. Mona begins to have out of body experiences, forced to watch as she's raped by dream Robby, which leads to her becoming pregnant. Aware of her apartment's dark history, and the suspicious disappearance of the infant belonging to the constantly rowing couple across the hall, Mona fears the worst.

Nightmare review

If you watch enough horror movies, you start to see the same themes and tropes repeated over and over again. What keeps the horror fan invested is that talented filmmakers can take an old theme or trope and inject new life into it. The emergence of so many women filmmakers in the genre over the past decade has refreshed horror by adding new perspectives, but we're already starting to see the female perspective on certain themes and tropes repeat themselves. Nightmare is a mish mash of classic horror themes and tropes: the pregnant woman in peril; the inattentive male partner more concerned with closing that deal at work than in listening to his lover's concerns; the demon that terrorises our heroine through dreams etc. Had Nightmare arrived as recently as five years ago, Rasmussen's female take on such things would have felt like a breath of fresh air, but she's now competing with other women filmmakers exploring the same ideas.

No accusations of plagiarism can be levelled as both movies arrived within months of each other, but Nightmare is uncannily similar in its narrative to Michelle Garza Cervera's Mexican horror Huesera: The Bone Woman. Both movies feature a young woman who has no interest in having a child find herself pregnant and subsequently terrorised by a demon from her culture's folklore; both movies' protagonists have given up their creative ambitions to appease their male partners; and the two films even share the same shocking ending. Cervera's film is far more focussed than Rasmussen's however, with the latter messily cobbling together a few different horror sub-genres. The backdrop of Catholicism adds an extra layer to Cervera's genre examination of life in a patriarchal society that doesn't translate so well to the more progressive setting of Norway in this case.

Nightmare review

Ultimately it's the lack of scares that prevent Nightmare from living up to its name. There's too much exposition, too much time spent explaining backstories and not enough spent on constructing tense set-pieces.

Harboe is very good in the role of a woman manipulated by men in both her waking and dream state, and along with her outstanding turn in Joachim Trier's Thelma, it's surely only a matter of time before she follows the likes of Rebecca Ferguson and Noomi Rapace in making a transition from Scandinavia to Hollywood. But the movie asks too much of her to fill in gaps and her character is written so inconsistently that she becomes frustrating. At one point Mona comes across tangible evidence that her neighbours have probably murdered their infant, yet inexplicably keeps the knowledge to herself. From that point any sympathy we had for Mona is largely eradicated.

 is on Shudder from September 29th.

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