I love A Nightmare on Elm Street. In fact, I’d go so far as to admit that I am a fully fledged Elm Street nerd.
In that sense, I Am Nancy looked like a great proposition to me. Heather Langenkamp investigates the resonances of the ultimate final girl, who she brought to life in the three best Elm Street movies. After the amazing four-hour opus Never Sleep Again, another Elm Street documentary might have been too much for some fans, but not for me. I really wanted to love I Am Nancy. Unfortunately, it fell a little flat. It is not a bad documentary, it just isn’t groundbreaking.
Its shortcomings are amplified by being released so soon after Never Sleep Again, a comparison that is unavoidable given the ten-minute preview of I Am Nancy included as a bonus feature on Never Sleep Again. The two are not directly comparable in terms of content or aims: I Am Nancy is primarily centred on Langenkamp’s and fans’ views. It has a specialised focus, being based on one character. Never Sleep Again, in contrast, is broad. It covers production, development and characterisation from the perspectives of the many writers, directors, and actors that worked on the series. Never Sleep Again is about the professional side of the series. I Am Nancy, in contrast, is personal.
These differences notwithstanding, they are comparable in terms of the information offered. Its sheer scope means that Never Sleep Again provides innumerous insights that are not located on other DVD extras, commentaries, books, interviews, fan-complied rarity collections (such as Le Chiffre’s gob-smacking goldmine), and scholarly analyses that surround the Elm Street franchise. I Am Nancy has a hard time competing. Aside from its illuminating interview with Wes Craven’s daughter, the content mostly covers well-trodden ground.
As such, I Am Nancy finds itself in a very difficult position. Due to its subject-matter, it will only appeal to Elm Street geeks like me. However, those said geeks are unlikely to find that much that they hadn’t already considered or didn’t already know about the franchise in I Am Nancy. I order to get around this shortcoming, the documentary focuses on fans’ own stories: the hardships they have faced and the inspiration they took from the character of Nancy. The problem is that when translating these into the documentary context, the tone becomes schmaltzy. Resultantly, I Am Nancy’s latter third is torn between offering a series of anecdotes that lack purpose, and imposing a narrative (Nancy as inspiration) that feels forced. This issue almost certainly stems from the film’s “audience paradox”. In fact, it seems as if the filmmakers did not have a clear goal in mind when setting out to compile the footage, other than providing Langenkamp with a way to work through this significant aspect of her career.
Had I personally encountered the fans interviewed at conventions, I can imagine that their stories would have greater emotional resonance than they do watching them second-hand. Herein lies the most significant of I Am Nancy‘s missed opportunities. The filmmakers point outward towards the fans but really its subject is Langenkamp herself, who obviously wanted to make a documentary to share her own experiences of visiting expos and hearing fans’ stories. For a documentary entitled I Am Nancy, the leading focal core – Langenkamp herself – is too hidden. She is often present onscreen, but mostly asks questions of others, or makes light of her/Nancy’s second-billing to Robert Englund/Freddy. Had the documentary shifted its focus inward towards Langenkamp, it would have found a depth that the finished film lacks. Frustratingly, the last half hour makes it apparent that the filmmakers knew the film should be aiming for intimacy, but their attempt to do so doesn’t quite come off.
All this said, I Am Nancy is a brave project. I have not encountered another horror actor that has made a documentary of this ilk – i.e. about their character, and that character’s relative failure to become iconic. Perhaps it is apposite that I Am Nancy itself is also unlikely to become iconic in its own right, having been overshadowed by Never Sleep Again. The character Nancy, as the documentary attests, was easily the most gutsy and powerful of the slashers’ final girls. It is befitting then that I Am Nancy – simply by nature of what it is as a horror documentary - is so ballsy. Like Nancy herself, although the film does not always know which way to turn and does not quite “make it” in the end, there is no denying that it is spunky, independent, and unique.