The Nightmare (2015)
directed by Rodney Ascher
The phenomenon of sleep paralysis is very real and very scary. Many people who experience it are unable to move or speak, effectively trapped between a dreaming and waking state and not able to do diddly-squat about it. What’s worse, the feeling of utter helplessness is often accompanied by hallucinations, hearing voices, or feeling like demonic figures are in the room with you. I have on occasion gotten that sense of not being able to wake up, so I can’t imagine what it must be like to lie there in the darkness, eyes open, and imagine that aliens are standing by your bed intent on abducting you, or worse, tickle you to death.
In The Nightmare, a quirky documentary about eight people who claim to suffer from the disorder, director Rodney Ascher gets one thing right: The various dramatizations of what they’ve experienced. The tone of the recreations is decidedly ambivalent, with odd camera angles, great use of light and shadow, and eerie sound design. They are also funny in their dreamlike quality, just the way it feels when you open your eyes in the wee hours and your mind gets worked up over murky shapes and leaky pipes. But the film does not explore other points of view other than the subjects’ certainty that what they go through seems real. I’m sure, but what about the science? Where are the interviews with doctors and psychologists? By opting for a hackneyed view of a terrible condition, The Nightmare loses credibility. It wants to startle the audience – and succeeds – yet I wish it had been interested in more than just the boogeyman under the bed.
Carlos I. Cuevas