[Nightmarish Detour Review] NR. 10

[Nightmarish Detour Review] NR. 10
NR 10 l Drafthouse Films
The trope of a play within a play serves as a way for the creator of the interior play to subject his audience to unseen plots that exist within his diegetic world. How easily a director can manipulate the cast and decide who stands where and who says what also determines the role each person plays in life. This concept also makes us ask, who is directing my life? Am I the director or merely a character in my own story? Certain religions and determinists would believe everything happens for a reason and that our lives and our role is out of our control. But that still raises the question: who is controlling me?

Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam’s NR 10 places the lead actor Tom Dewispelaere at the center of the film as the character Günther, but he also plays the main role in the play within a play. Günther plays a part within the crafted story and holds fabricated connections with his castmates’ characters, but off the stage, the other actors play a very real role in his life. All of which, now seems to be unfolding for the unsuspecting actor. From affairs to medical anomalies to a mysterious past, Günther struggles with the quickly changing perimeters of his life, and now he must venture on a surreal and unexpected journey.

NR 10 begins with a very drama-heavy daytime soap storyline. Günther acts in a small stage performance with his co-star Isabel (Anniek Pheifer). Once the stage goes dark and everyone goes home, Günther and Isabel continue their connection in the bedroom. However, Isabel is married to Karl (Hans Kesting), the director of the play. The illicit couple keeps their private and performing affairs separated, but it becomes harder to keep the secret from everyone.

Mixing in with the main plot, two subplots also arise to keep the drama high. Marius, (Pierre Bokma) a castmate of Günther and Isabel, fails to learn his lines due to his ailing wife. And Günther’s grown daughter Lizzy (Frieda Barnhard) just discovered she was born with only one lung and demands to know what makes her so genetically special. Bizarrely, all of these storylines do connect to one another. The first act sets the stage with exciting relationships that circle around love and mystery. All of these plot lines might make for an interesting story arc on your grandma’s favorite soap, but how does this all connect to horror?

Soon Karl discovers the affair and makes the executive decision to punish the actors. While rehearsing Karl demands Günther and Marius switch lines mid-scene and he even reverses the roles as a means to take away power from his wife’s lover. The whole dynamic of the play becomes a hot mess, and everyone involved grows frustrated with the unexpected changes. The vindictive revenge of the director can be anticipated, but Günther’s real life also experiences a complete lapse of reality as he beings to have visions of his forgotten childhood. While dealing with this ever-changing role on stage as an actor, as a man he must also try to regain an understanding of his place in life. And much like the play, the movie also takes a completely obscure turn when everything we understand as an audience becomes completely wrong.

The director (both Van Warmerdam and Karl) use space to great effect in setting the mood for their scenes. In the play, as Günther’s role changes due to the director’s enraged demands, we see a scene with a large group, then a scene with only those directly involved in the extramarital affair, and finally a single character on the stage while Gunther himself is relegated to a prompter’s box. Hidden entirely from the audience in a play that only a short time ago featured him as the lead, Günther can only observe the life that was once his.

As for Van Warmerdam, he relies more on the scenery and color to isolate his leading man (and even the audience a bit). As Günther tries to puzzle out what is happening with his life, we see the scenery transition from bustling cities to a nearly empty church, and finally to a remote location and down an impossibly long staircase. The increasing separation of Günther from his life makes the viewer (even subconsciously) understand the growing isolation of the character. All of which leads to a subtle, yet effective viewing experience.

Even people familiar with van Warmerdam’s works will find themselves surprised by the unexpected turns of NR 10. Van Warmerdam follows his hit Borgman with this surreal and absurd labyrinth journey through paranoia. And unless you read the synopsis beforehand it’s hard to even understand who the main character is. But much like the play within the play, the roles switch and Günther becomes the main focus. The first half of the film and the second half definitely do not match and by the time you get to the third act, you will wonder if you are still watching the same film. However, this is not a negative because the impeccable storytelling and well-cast characters will leave the audience hooked regardless of watching a torrent love triangle or a multi-country conspiracy theory that harkens to The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser.

Am I being purposefully vague about the trajectory of the story? You bet I am! The less you know about the film the better. The director wanted to create a world that morphed in front of us as we witnessed the re-direction and the re-assigning of the lead. Tonally the last act differs greatly from the previous portions of the film, which might lose some audience members but the confidence in which the film jumps from drama to action to sci-fi (with a hint of horror running throughout) makes NR10 a must-see.

Offering interesting characters, beautiful cinematography, and some fun jabs at the Catholic church, NR 10 offers quite an off-scripted approach to life and the world as we know it. And with an ever-present feeling of a black comedy, the film ends with quite the humorous punchline.

The digital release will take place on December 9, 2022.

Nightmarish Detour

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