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The Nightmare – Review


Release Date: 5 June 2015 [USA]
Director: Rodney Ascher
Writer: N/A - Documentary
Cast: Siegfried Peters - Stephen Michael Joseph - Nicole Bosworth

Posted October 8, 2015 by

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The Nightmare Review:

Some people get it more than others. That feeling when you’re lying in bed awake and you cannot move. You want to but you cannot. There is a presence in the room – a figure, perhaps even three. They advance on you, maybe even inspect you, maybe even mount you.

This condition, known as sleep paralysis, is explored in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, ‘The Nightmare’. He interviews eight people, four male, four female – seven Americans and one Brit – who relate their experiences to camera. Then we see their night terrors reconstructed with actors.

The most bizarre cast involves Chris C. Aged five, he reported the newscaster talking to him. ‘Don’t worry,’ he is told. He is safe now. But ‘they’re coming back.’ Chris’ mother, who left him alone with Channel 42 news, is sceptical.

A common thread amongst the interviewees is that they are young – mid to late twenties, maybe pushing the big three-o – and (mostly) living away from home. Their anxieties are repetitive; the paralysis occurs night after night. Their methods dealing with their condition varies – leaving one television on all night, then another and another. ‘It works for a while, and then the condition adapts.’ Another is taken by his girlfriend into a stone circle. Another utters one word that proves a game changer.

It is one thing to present a condition, quite another to explore it. Some of the interviewees seek therapy – their therapists are mostly clueless. The condition of sleep paralysis is defined on Wikipedia, which some of them look up, though Ascher (who also directed a documentary inspired by ‘The Shining’, ‘Room 237’) doesn’t tell you everything about it.

Because we only get the testimonies of the Wakeful Eight – these include sinister phone calls – we don’t get to know whether this condition is fatal or whether an alternative remedy has been devised. We know it has occurred through history. In the film’s most illuminating passage, Ascher demonstrates through clips from the film ‘Communion’ how sleep paralysis has been confused with alien abduction. Those saucer men are the figures who stand near the bed. But it isn’t just wide-eyed – perhaps red-eyed – figures. It could take the form of a cat talking gibberish.

Other clips from ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (naturally), ‘Natural Born Killers’ (the title sequence) and ‘Insidious’ demonstrate how the condition has inspired movies. Similarly, we see a range of paintings that show classic sleep paralysis imagery. Ascher could also have shown the poster from Ken Russell’s ‘Gothic’.

What about that stuff on the ‘net? It describes how sleep paralysis is found in young people, how it is brought on by resisting sleep or by altered sleep patterns – one of the interviewees works nights. The suggestion is that it is a growing pain, something like puberty you grow out of.

Ascher wants to mythologize the condition. One of the interviewees says the account on Wikipedia is irrelevant. It is as if the interviewees, whilst hating the condition, want to wear it as a badge of honour, even when it appears to lose them girlfriends.

I wanted something more from ‘The Nightmare’ from just a series of interviews that don’t advance our understanding that much – none of the interviewees mention the contribution of irregular sleep patterns at all. They may be ‘great stories’ but ‘The Nightmare’ isn’t great storytelling.


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Larry Oliver
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