‘The Nightmare’ Review: Don’t Go To Sleep

Posted in Screening Room by - June 12, 2015

Monster Movie month has featured all variety of monsters so far, but the ones featured in The Nightmare are a special breed of horrifying. The Nightmare may be the most terrifying film I’ve seen, and I honestly don’t scare that easily. The kinds of films that scare me the most are ones that focus on the question of what is and isn’t reality, and this film asks that perfectly. Directed by Rodney Ascher, the director who brought us Room 237, a film that I absolutely love, it’s another interesting entry in the director’s growing documentary portfolio. That’s right, it’s a documentary, but it’s closer to docu-drama than your typical talking-head documentary.

In the vein of Room 237The Nightmare tells the story of several people who are stricken with sleep paralysis, and the things they see during sleep. Each of these people’s stories are unique, but in some way they are connected through the things that they see. While the stories are told by the people who experience it, there are also reenactments of the events. These reenactments make up the majority of the film, and they are the scariest part. Along with the reenactments, there are also scenes from films inter-cut into the movie for emphasis, making it feel almost Joycean in the the presentation of the film’s points. 

The film isn’t scary in a “jump scare” way, but in a “holy shit, this can happen to me” way. While I personally haven’t felt a presence in the room with me as many of the people in the film do, that doesn’t mean that I never will. That’s the horrifying aspect of the film. It’s a nightmarish prospect that you could be lying in bed, asleep, then all of a sudden you are unable to move, with featureless shapes moving around your room. If that doesn’t send a chill up your spine immediately, I don’t know what does. The film does a great job of presenting those shapes in the movie, and that’s whats most terrifying about it. It almost feels like a dream itself.

Ascher’s ability to generate this dreamlike state in his films is why I gravitate to his works. The subject matter lends itself to conjecture and supposition in both movies since, while sleep paralysis is medically defined, the way the interviewees in the film tell it, one can question those definitions. It’s never really said definitively what the true nature of sleep paralysis and the visions that come with it are, but the differing theories presented in the film are unsettling enough to keep you thinking long after the credits roll. Jonathan Snipes helps in creating the dreamlike state in the film with his ethereal soundtrack, something that really stood out to me from his work on Room 237. It just adds to the unsettling and disturbing nature of the movie.

The Nightmare is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a horror film masquerading as a simple documentary. It’s the kind of horror that you can experience every night if you are unlucky, not the kind about the zombie lurking in the graveyard. The monster in this movie hides inside the deep, dark recesses of your mind, waiting to reveal itself whenever the time is right. At one point, one of the interviewees says that, after telling a friend about his visions, she began to have them too. That is the lasting terror from the film, and an idea that sticks with me even now, writing this review. Watch The Nightmare at your own peril, but know that its worth the risk. 

Final Say: Watch It

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Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He's a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You'll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.
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