Welcome to the scariest place on earth.
Imagine: You are an adult. You rest your head on your pillow after a long day. Falling slowly to sleep, right at your most vulnerable, you catch movement out of the corner of your eye. In the doorway lurks a figure, a malevolently shrouded body leers toward you. You try to open your mouth to scream, but you can’t. With all your might you try to will yourself out of bed away from harm, you can’t. This is sleep paralysis, this is The Nightmare.
When it comes to sleep disorders, most people have heard of night terrors, those dreams so beyond nightmares that people scream and convulse in their sleep. There is another, a lesser known disorder, a more sinisterly psychological sleep disorder. The Nightmare examines people afflicted with this malady, but not in your typical ‘documentary’ thematic. Instead, it delves deep into our greatest fears, springing to life those horrors that plague these souls, paralyzing them.
This isn’t your normal documentary, for though I’ve been put off by content or cringed at the realities of other documentaries, no other documentary has truly made me scared. There is something deeply unsettling about the individuals involved in telling their stories in The Nightmare. From all walks of life, with no connection to one another whatsoever, these people recount their experiences with striking similarity. This is where the horror of the documentary resides.
The Nightmare doesn’t pose its subject matter in a medical manner, it is with a horror aesthetic. While entertaining and disturbing, it is in this aspect that critics can comment on the negatives of the film. It doesn’t follow the standard formula, so there is no true scope or comprehension of the disorder except through vignettes of personal accounts. It is easy to discredit these people as sick without the aid of experts, though the subjects relay pop culture aspects and obsessively research the historical reaches of their disease.
The implicit conclusion of The Nightmare, drawn from the film’s focus upon its subjects an how specifically and authentically they describe this horrific experience, is that sleep paralysis is perhaps not a medical malady but a greater, more malicious, occurrence. The documentary loses its strength with nothing to break it up, with Rodney Ascher‘s 90 minute film constantly and solely reliant upon the stories and their recreations and nothing else.