Anne Breymann’s 2017 film Nachtstück is, in a word, weird. Not in the hand-wavy, dismissive way that word is often used, as in “that was weird, I don’t get it.” Nachtstück is weird in a deeper, more unsettling way, the way that horror writer H.P. Lovecraft articulated almost a century ago in his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature:
“The one test of the really weird is simply this—whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim.”
In other words, Nachtstück works because it feels like a peek behind the curtains, a glimpse at a world just beyond our comprehension. The basic outline of the film is straightforward—it’s a dice game being played by a set of fantastical creatures. But the rules of the game, the stakes they’re playing for, and the nature of their world are all just slightly out of reach.
Breymann’s character design here is wonderful. None of the creatures are outright alien. Their textures are all natural, wood and fur and eggshell stone, even as they’re contorted into unnatural combinations. The characters could be echoes of recognizable creatures—strange birds, a moth, a multi-faced elephant—but something in the atmosphere suggests that its just as likely that the real world is echoes of these creatures. The score only adds to the films groundedness, rooting it in wooden creaking and metallic groans. Whatever is happening here, it feels deeply connected to the earth.
There’s nothing explicitly frightening about Nachtstück, and if you had to pin it down to a genre, fantasy’s probably the closest bet. But it feels closer to a primal myth than to Tolkien’s high fantasy. These aren’t elves and pixies having a bit of fun. Unknown creatures are gambling with the core of their being. It’s sinister and unsettling. It’s weird.
(Nachtstück screened at the 13th Giant Incandescent Resonating Animation Festival as part of our Magic, Monsters and Mysticism pack celebrating the supernatural. See more of our favourite animated shorts in our ongoing Indie Animation Mixtape vimeo channel.)