The Nightmare Movie Review
Written by Robert Gold
Released by Gravitas Ventures
Directed by Rodney Ascher
2015, 90 minutes, Not Rated
Released theatrically and on VOD on June 5th, 2015 | Blu-ray/DVD released on August 4th, 2015
Director Rodney Ascher follows up his successful documentary Room 237 with The Nightmare, a storied look at the mysterious condition known as sleep paralysis. In the film, eight anonymous individuals share their harrowing accounts of the night terrors that have plagued them, many since adolescence. Seven of the interviewees reside within the United States, with an eighth living in England. There are many recurring elements shared among these unrelated dreamers, including sinister shadow men and possible extraterrestrials. All recount the horrors of being unable to move despite the urge to flee a particularly vivid dream. It is unclear if the people are actually awake and physically paralyzed or if that is simply an added element to their ordeal; a dream within a dream.
I’m going to go out on a limb and call bullshit right off the bat. I’ve seen some reviewers buy into this premise without question and others praise the film only to hedge their bets at the end of the article, claiming the marketing brilliance if this proves to be a hoax. I have nothing to lose by acknowledging flat out that the whole thing feels like a fraud. Maybe I’ve seen too many Christopher Guest (Best in Show) mockumentaries, or perhaps I am simply jaded and cynical. Regardless of my own issues, I honestly believe this is fiction. I would love to be proven wrong and if the internet thinks I’m trolling to be different, please let me know where I can verify these specific cases covered within the film. I can take The Nightmare at face value and watch it as a docudrama that is simply relating these tales with an Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line) flourish for theatrical re-enactments, but I find this viewing option particularly insulting and manipulative.
The Nightmare is beautifully shot by cinematographer Bridger Nielson (At the Devil’s Door), but marred by some low-rent computer graphics that at times resemble early 1990s consumer software (Video Toaster). Allowing for a moment that the participants are real and their stories 100% factual, the director and producers missed a terrific opportunity to actually help these people rather than exploit them in hopes of generating a few scares. Are these people victims or are they mentally unbalanced? One man suggests sleep paralysis is contagious, having caught it from “a weird chick” he was dating before passing it on to his next girlfriend. Another woman claims her sleep paralysis led to sexual assault and yet this revelation is simply glossed over with another dramatic re-enactment, apparently because she is just a kooky lady with a kinky dream-lover. The film would be better served if Ascher were to rein in his subjects and focus more on the causes of their disorder.
Instead of receiving authoritative information concerning this condition, we are left to hear testimony exclusively from the subjects without a word from any objective observer, be it a friend or family member to corroborate these occurrences. I would think a documentary analyzing the subject of sleep paralysis would merit a bit of exposition from medical or academic professionals, but there are none to be found. We do get some philosophical guidance from Johnny Depp in a clip from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), for what that is worth to you. Is it possible that Ascher found eight people at random sleep clinics that suffer similar symptoms? Of course he could, but I don’t know why he leaves them anonymous in the film only to fully identify them in the closing credits.
I get the feeling that instead of dealing with legitimate participants whose stories are recreated with actors, it might be easier to cast for both the roles of sufferers and those reenacting the nightmares. Found-footage is a popular subgenre that is quickly overstaying its welcome with audiences, so perhaps the horror community is ready for the mockumentary. This is the big-screen version of reality programming from your favorite television station. Everything is staged in advance and easily misled audiences continue to eat it up. Perhaps someone will take a serious look at sleep paralysis in the future and if viewers think back on this worthless effort at all, they will simply dismiss it as a bad dream.
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