Director: Rodney Ascher
Writer: Rodney Ascher
Running time: 91mins
The lowdown: Unnerving, disturbing and touching movie from Rodney Ascher, the director of the memorably bizarre Shining deconstruction Room 237. Here Ascher encounters eight people with sleep paralysis, a condition that leaves sufferers caught between consciousness and unconsciousness, plagued by terrifying visions. More shared experience than traditional documentary, like all nightmares early moments of unease escalate into genuine fear come the climactic scenes.
The full verdict: Whereas the opinions of contributors in Room 237 said more about them than The Shining, the sleep paralysis sufferers of The Nightmare appear to pinpoint fear archetypes hardwired into us all. One interviewee, a teacher, notes how “Jungian” the terrifying visions are.
The interviewees, North American save for one Mancunian man, all recount seeing dark figures seemingly made of shadow invading their bedrooms, and comment on how movies such as Insidious, Jacob’s Ladder and Natural Born Killers contain images and experiences apparently ripped from their troubled sleep.
These accounts will have you playing amateur psychologist: alien abductions seem to be explained by the confused childhood terrors of one sufferer.
Ascher has received criticism for his subjective take on the subject, mixing interviews with well-realised recreations of the nightmares described, eschewing input from any experts.
But, this arguably helps cement the sense of helplessness sufferers feel, having a condition for which according to them there is no treatment. Their coping mechanisms, including mute TVs, religion and, in the pre-internet age turning to A Nightmare on Elm Street for clues, are both unsettling and heartbreaking.
Effectively building from a low sense of dread to real discomfort as the interviewees describe mental and physical symptoms, The Nightmare also alarmingly suggests sleep paralysis may be contagious.
Hopefully not – Ascher’s dream world is a fascinating place, but you wouldn’t want to live there.