Eight individuals suffering from a rare disorder called sleep paralysis, where the person is rendered immobile, unable to speak, move or react when falling asleep or awakening are interviewed. Horrifying visions that share a common thread often appear to the sufferer’s in the form of shadow people. Vague, dark translucent entities that stalk the person’s worst nightmares are relentless in testing the very boundaries to each person’s sanity.
The Nightmare is a pseudo-documentary film where we’re not entirely certain if it’s a genuine researched and explored endeavor or simply a reenactment of director Rodney Ascher’s vision in which he too claims to have once suffered from sleep paralysis. Regardless of the movie’s authenticity or merit should be of little consequence in terms of entertainment value. This format has been deemed an effective story telling prose time and again in other genres and forms of media. It only seems a natural fit that the paranormal and horror realm would adapt something along these lines. It’s a refreshing format to witness in terms of esthetic and the ninety one minutes rolls past faster than one would think.
Some audiences may argue the interviews are scripted or their stories lead by the director. I can’t really validate these claims one way or another and not so much concerned with how genuine the experiences are. I can state the comparisons in the collective experiences through each individual’s symptoms and trauma up to and including the shadow people is uncanny and creepy as hell. For full entertainment value I recommend that viewers keep an open mind and astray the attention off of the documentary label and simply concentrate on what unfolds before them.
In the end, perhaps it is best left up the viewers to be judge, jury and executioner if the interviewees are being authentic or not. I can honestly state that I believe the subjects or victims believe what has happened is real, and that’s suffice enough for me.
The contrast and subtleties in each subject’s testimony is intriguing enough to keep most audiences fixated. We get to know their routines, lifestyle and back ground. Each is as diverse and unique as the next. There is no real correlation, rhyme or reason the sleep paralysis begins or ends. Each episode is different for each person yet the similarities are bone chilling to say the least.
In the midst of each interview a reenactment is illustrated. The format reminds me very much of the long running hit television series hosted by the late great Robert Stack, Unsolved Mysteries. Often the actor or actress playing the subject could pass for their identical twin or doppelganger. In other segments the person playing the subject looks nothing alike and is so different, it’s absurd. At any rate the amusement factors are heightened on this premise alone and should be received much to the delight of critics and fans alike.
The phenomenon of sleep paralysis is rare and therefore relatively unchartered in depth. Little research has been documented on the ailment as opposed to its cousin in sleep disorders, night terrors. Audiences will squirm at the seed of another possibility to plague our sleep and temptation to sleep with the lights on. Much of the duration of the film has the subjects describe to what lengths they go to, to avoid sleep and how they each cope in everyday life. The final act includes a more current interview with each subject and how their outlook looks compared to when shooting of The Nightmare began.
Overall The Nightmare was well received among audiences and critics. Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January of this year, one viewer was even moved to tears at the elation and epiphany one subject had received just prior to the closing credits running. Indiewire, Screen Daily, Variety and Shock Till You Drop have all given the production praise.
If Rodney Ascher seems like a familiar name, in all likelihood you’ve seen his work before.
He was the one and same that directed the once again pseudo-documentary Room 237, an analysis behind the meaning of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. He also directed a short for The ABC’s of Death 2 titled Q is for Questionnaire. His work is diverse and compelling, regardless of subgenre and I strongly encourage film goers with a flair for something different to check out The Nightmare. Just make sure you’re well caught up on rest beforehand.
-Four out of five tombstones