Nightmare Detective screens at Toronto After Dark

Nightmare Detective stalks Toronto After Dark

The closing night gala for this year's Toronto After Dark film festival is just a night away, but the flick that really drew my eye in this week's lineup was Shinya Tsukamoto's ode to J-horror, Nightmare Detective. The film screened tonight at the Bloor Cinema.

The festival's international programmer, Todd Brown, introduced the film, starting by chiding anyone in the audience who had failed to take in last night's screening of Alone - which, at almost the exact same moment it was screening here in Toronto, was winning a pantload of awards down at the L.A. Screamfest. He told everyone who had missed the Thai conjoined twins horror movie to slap themselves.

(I slapped myself.)

I had to content myself instead with Tsukamoto's labyrinth of bad dreams gone horribly wrong, and the one man (the eponymous Nightmare Detective!) who can put them right. The film works as a kind of Nightmare on Elm Street taken from the cops' point of view (if the police in that movie hadn't been utter wanktards). Multiple victims around Tokyo have been dying of self-inflicted slash-wounds during incredibly violent nightmares; when one Scullyish detective realizes that a serial killer is causing the deaths by manipulating the victims' dreams, she turns to a man who can enter the dreams to search for clues.


As bizarre as that plot sounds, its beats are actually surprisingly predictable to anyone who has seen a Japanese horror movie in the last ten years. Cliches aside, though, the storyline is really little more than an opportunity for Tsukamoto to frame a series of startlingly effective nightmare sequences, which he does with Satanic glee.

I think I have Japanese nightmares. There's something about the pervasive, rumbling dread of the imagery of films like this that so specifically reminds me of my own bad dreams that I really find the effect quite unnerving - something few nightmare sequences from films from other parts of the world have ever been able to achieve. I didn't find the story of Nightmare Detective particularly involving, but enjoyed myself thoroughly nevertheless, due to the film's eye-popping frights and topsy-turvy "are we dreaming, are we not?" switchbacks.

I was glad to discover that my earlier concerns about the Bloor's sound system seem to have been unfounded; other than some print damage in the later reels, the soundscape for tonight's presentation (critically important in a film like this) was big, brassy, and effective.

Nightmare Detective played to a generous crowd that seemed to be on board with its creepy dream logic. I continue to be glad to see After Dark getting such strong support in what is, after all, only its sophomore year. This fest was made for this city. There's something about the relationship between fantasy, horror, and Toronto audiences - when the sun goes down in this town, the demons head for the movies to enjoy their bad dreams.

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