NOVEMBER 8, 2009
I’m not a big David Lynch fan, and I don’t mind admitting it. His films genuinely look really nice and contain some great moments, but his more “Lynch-y” films (Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway) are always head-scratchers that, to me, waste some pretty intriguing ideas (I DO enjoy his more straight forward films like Blue Velvet and Elephant Man, as well as what little I have seen of Twin Peaks, however). I bring him up because I felt the same way about Nightmare. Like Lynch’s most recent film Inland Empire, Nightmare sets up an great premise with potential for some truly interesting meta-commentary on filmmaking, and ultimately gets bogged down by its over-length (though, thankfully, not nearly as long as Lynch’s endurance test) and seemingly psychotic need to keep the audience unaware as to what exactly is going on.
Look, maybe I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but if I can follow The Usual Suspects, Memento, Jacob’s Ladder... then I can at least vouch for SOME intelligence up there. Hell, even Primer didn’t pose me too much of a problem in a general sense (it’s only when I start trying to layout the timeline of each character that I get a bit befuddled). But I honestly couldn’t tell what the hell was going on in the final third of the film, and that’s always a big problem for me, especially when I was really enjoying the film due to its initial setup (a couple wakes in the morning and sees a video camera in the room, with a tape showing how they murdered someone the night before - an act they have no recollection of). I’d almost rather never have a firm grasp on what was happening (Eraserhead comes to mind) than see a good storyline lost in a sea of “twists” and head-scratching fourth wall breaking. The great thing about Memento is that it started off as kind of confusing, but by the end it all not only made sense, but turned out to be a much smaller (and more interesting) film than the concept initially suggested. This film goes the other way - as it goes it gets more and more baffling and (to me) less and less interesting.
There’s also the strange detachment on the part of the characters that bugged me. I know when I wake up after bedding a stranger and then find a video that shows me and her killing some fat dude, I’m usually pretty freaked out. But our hero (named simply The Director) is like “OK, weird... let’s talk about this later; I have to go to class now.” And the girl is a bit freaked, but not enough to a. stop seeing the dude or b. ignore his request to star in his student film, which also rings a bit hollow. I know some actresses are desperate, but if all you’ve seen of a guy is his self-shot snuff film, I’m guessing that a porno might seem like a better option.
Also, and I know this sounds weird, but there is just way too much nudity in this movie. I guess it works to make me uncomfortable, but there was enough for that after the first half hour, and yet the remaining 70 minutes are just as, if not MORE, wall-to-wall with male and female nudity (often full frontal on both sides). By design its not meant to titillate (if it was there would be enough for the film to be considered soft-core porn), but it still comes off as a bit shady and a touch exploitative.
That said, there is some good stuff here. Director/Co-Writer Dylan Bank clearly studied up on film schools or attended one himself; he’s got the details of the film student “community” down pat (everyone of course wants to be a director, but in order to get a grade they have to “slum” in lesser roles like boom operator on someone else’s film and hope they get their chance the next semester). I especially loved the bit where the film teacher gives The Director a little sheet that depicts the proper way to frame a shot so that the eye-line wasn’t dead center on the screen. And the audition scene struck a chord with me, having had the experience of hearing my “brilliant” writing butchered by clumsy would-be thespians. And even though it sort of bugged me, kudos to Bank for finding pretty decent actors who would be OK with so much nudity (in a low budget indie film, you’re usually stuck with one or the other).
The screener I got includes an “alternate ending” which clarifies something I had suspected about the ending (spoiler (highlight to read) - that the whole thing was indeed a movie someone was watching - the film student’s version of “It was all a dream”). This was more or less proven by Bank and producer/co-writer Morgan Pehme in the other bonus feature, in which the two men explain their reason for doing the film, casting the two leads, and finally explaining a bit about the ending. It’s a very laudable and appreciated gesture (beats Richard Kelly’s refusal to explain his equally puzzling films), but my argument is still that we shouldn’t need an explanation in the first place.
I do appreciate Bank and his crew attempting to do something a little smarter than the average horror film, and at times (i.e. the first hour) they are successful in doing so. I wish I liked the film more overall, but I think the characters needed to be a little more realistic (within reason - this IS a horror film after all and thus a bit of leeway is expected) and the film as a whole needed some refinement in order to truly grab me all the way. I don't do scores usually, but if I had to, (just to be clear) I'd give the first half a 9/10 and the 2nd a 5/10, for an overall 7.
What say you?
P.S. When your film is about a handsome guy who may be committing murders, you’re already going to get American Psycho remarks. So why cover him in blood and have him run around nude so often, when it just makes it look even MORE similar?