The Nightmare is a documentary about sleep paralysis and the tolls it takes on its victims. The film uses reenactments complete with special effects to translate real accounts of the disorder to the screen. Eight people tell stories of specific incidents they have encountered, including a T.V. news anchor contacting them through the screen and mysterious demonic shadow people invading the bedroom.
Sleep paralysis is something I’ve heard about more recently on the internet and it piqued my interest. It is an experience where when asleep you wake up to find that you can’t move and various hallucinations ensue. Like a dream that you know you’re in but can’t snap out of. When I learned that The Nightmare was being made I was anticipating its release to learn more about the subject. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t really delve to deep into any scientific explanations for the occurrence. The people in the film do mention they have seen doctors about the issue but even they don’t know how to field proper advice due to lack of information in the medical world.
The Nightmare might have fared better if it was a straight up fictional movie based on real peoples stories. The constant cutting back and forth from reenactment to formal interview took away from some of the horror and suspense. Also, whoever edited this should be blacklisted. Random fades to black in the middle of someone’s sentence and then cutting back to the same exact shot is a very annoying technique and fails to make anything spooky or startling. I did like the few behind the scenes glimpses into the process of making the recreations. It seemed there was a central hub to all of the stories, almost making the viewer think they might be dreaming the whole movie. However, these quick on-the-fly scenes were far and few between and needed to be pursued further if any depth was to be achieved.
The film started off slow with most of the different people’s stories being very similar and it got a little bit boring as I have heard all of the generic shadow people talk before. Then, when the individual experiences started to differ, The Nightmare got fun. In particular, I was spooked by the tale involving an evil cat on the bed and the demon phone call. Also, the story with the enormous redhead guy yelling “You know me!” over and over makes me think I have dreamed something like that at one point in my life. The final chilling aspect is brought up at the end when most of the subjects explain how thinking about sleep paralysis and informing others about it seems to make it happen more often. The one man says it keeps getting worse and he thinks one day it will get so bad he will die from the disorder. Another says he told a friend about what was happening to him and got a text the next day saying his friend hates him because he passed the the paralysis on by talking about it, not unlike an STD.
There is a problem with films like The Nightmare. You don’t know if these people are actors reading from a script or if they have had genuine sleep paralysis incidents. Either way, to think that this horrible thing could happen to anyone and there is no real fix makes the film pretty damn unnerving. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a scarier documentary so I will praise the director, Rodney Ascher, for delivering the goods, especially to make up for the abysmal Room 237. After viewing The Nightmare you might feel the need to pray to your pillow at night. I know I sure will.
4 “WAKE UP!!”s out of 5