The Nightmare

The Nightmare photo starrating-3stars.jpgHave you ever had the feeling as you were falling asleep or waking up, that you couldn’t move? You’re between sleep and consciousness. You need to wake up but you can’t. You may have even felt like there was a presence in the room, either hovering near your bed — or even sitting on your chest. This is a phenomenon known as sleep paralysis. It may occur only once in your life. It may happen many times a year. Figures are unreliable and vary widely but 65 percent of the population may endure it at some point in their lives. Understanding the science behind the experience helps people feel less distressed after an episode. Believing the condition is brought on by the supernatural, on the other hand, makes people feel more unnerved. The latter course is how director Rodney Ascher has decided to approach this subject.

Rodney Ascher is best known for his 2012 documentary Room 237. In it he invited individuals to speculate about hidden meanings found in Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining. It was a speculative (read far-fetched) work that achieved some notoriety. Now Ascher has returned 3 years later with another work of non-fiction called The Nightmare. This time he has chosen the study of sleep paralysis and focused on 8 people who regularly suffer from the disorder.

There are valid scientific explanations for what happens during sleep paralysis. However The Nightmare chooses to ignore all that and just indulge in fantasy. As a horror flick it’s suitably eerie. After all, the fear is very real for some people. If you’ve ever faced one of these episodes, the film will certainly resonate. In fact, a common side effect in many cases is that victims were able to cause other people in their lives to experience the same condition simply by explaining what they felt. This gives the movie an almost viral like possibility to create genuine dread in the lives of those who watch. If that appeals to you, tune in.

What saves The Nightmare from lack of hard data, is the frightening recreation of the ordeals that the various subjects describe. There is a remarkable similarity to many of the experiences. Visions of shadowy figures, ghosts, demons, cats, even aliens are seen during these attacks. This makes the picture an extremely effective horror tool. However as a documentary on the topic, it lacks much factual information. There are some theories thrown about but no scientific information as to explain why people suffer from these incidents. Sleep paralysis has been around for centuries. An interpretation of a 1781 oil painting by artist Henry Fuseli attests to this. So where are the interviews with doctors who specialize in sleep disorders? Couldn’t they demystify these bizarre episodes? Perhaps that would take away from the movie’s real intent to simply scare the audience. It does a decent job.


17 Responses to “The Nightmare”

  1. GaryGreg828 Says:

    I will try to watch this one this week.


    • I’m very eager to hear what you think.


      • GaryGreg828 Says:

        Just watched. Ironically, I fell asleep in the middle of it. lol. I do think the topic is interesting, but the film felt a bit tedious after a while. I think the tone and perhaps the manipulating visuals trying to make you feel afraid actually backfired and made it less scary and authentic for me. It seems more interesting to me when I read people’s written accounts.

        I have had a few episodes in my life when I can’t move for a short period of time in my sleep, and it’s always a little scary, but for me it’s only lasted a moment and then everything goes back to normal. I have never seen any shadowy figures in my room, thank God.

        I thought Connie’s testimony of how she called out to Jesus and the figures fled and never returned was interesting. I am also a Christian. I am going to watch her video she made on YouTube to see what I think.

        What about you, Mark – any experiences with sleep paralysis, or anything similar?


      • I have experienced this. It felt like a bad dream and then it was over so I didn’t pay it much attention.


  2. Good points man, I haven’t been very interested in this because it looks like a more impassioned attempt at playing to vulnerable audiences’ fears in the same way Paranormal Activity has been doing for way too long now. If the film doesn’t rely on much science I don’t thjnk I can buy into this.


    • If it was fiction I might’ve cut it more slack, but as a documenatry it should adhere to a different standard.

      I’m still thnking about it though so that should count for soemthing I suppose.


  3. I think adding actual doctors who specialize in sleep disorders would have greatly change the overall tone of the film. I liked the fact that Ascher genuinely tries to make a horror film within the traditional documentary format. Which is pretty hard to do since viewers often approach documentaries from a information seeking standpoint first, and an entertainment one second. Despite a few weak special effect moments, there are several great scares in the film. I think adding a scientific element would break-up the flow and make the film more clinical than it should be.


    • Fair enough. It’s just that most people’s definition of a documentary would include facts and this didn’t provide that. He did a great job at creating a scary record of these people’s emotions though.


      • I see your point. The film is not as effective as say Bart Layton’s The Imposter, which I think blends facts and genre filmmaking within the realm of documentary nicely, but I appreciated Ascher’s ambition. I still need to see Room 237 though, heard a lot of mixed things about that one.


  4. abbiosbiston Says:

    This has actually happened to me a few times in my life and it was terrifying.


  5. Seems like Ascher is on a path of sensational documentaries after Room 237 and this film. Sleep paralysis definitely makes for good horror and I could see how all of these stories could be quite frightening. Like you, I would probably be disappointed by the one-sidedness of this documentary and its lack of hard data. Scientific information would color the piece and make it a lot more fully realized.


  6. Great review! Very enjoyable read 🙂

    You were fairer than me, I very much disliked it. The reconstructions were really scary I agree, but without any evaluation or proper explanation I couldn’t take it seriously. And when it was going down the ‘demons v god’ route I just couldn’t stomach anymore. I found it disappointing and cheap.


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