Not surprisingly, the sleep paralysis documentary The Nightmare sees Room 237 director Rodney Ascher interviewing eight individuals that suffer from sleep paralysis. The doc is a combination of interview footage and reenactments of the various experiences of the group.
I am a pretty big fan of Ascher’s Room 237. I think it does a great job of presenting an unbiased look at fan and film scholar theories on The Shining. Although some of the subjects being interviewed are a little out there, it never comes off as judgmental and (as a documentary should) refrains from any form of bias. The film lets the viewer draw his or hr own conclusions. The Nightmare is also impartial and merely presents the audience with the information. Unfortunately, in doing so, it’s quite dull. I had heard that The Nightmare was quite terrifying and as such had really high expectations going in. Unfortunately, I was fairly disappointed and had trouble really getting into it.
Rodney Ascher is definitely a gifted filmmaker and I look forward to seeing what he does next but this one was a miss for me. The reenactments feel cheesy and fail to deliver the frights. They come off like something from an episode of a television documentary series. They really cheapened the overall effect. Moreover, the progression from topic to topic feels disjointed at times. A lot of the segues are not particularly well structured and are too abrupt.
Another thing that really bothered me is that we receive no insight as to what causes sleep paralysis. There is no expert testimony. The entirety of the film’s running time is comprised of first hand experiences from sufferers of sleep paralysis. While there is most definitely a place for that and that kind of depiction is crucial to the film’s purpose, I was left wanting to know more about the science behind the phenomenon. I don’t like to leave a documentary feeling as though I need to research a concept just to better understand what it actually is. A few clips from leading professionals in the field interspersed would have gone a long way in terms of bettering the pacing and making the picture more informative.
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My other chief complaint is that the film drags at times. There are moments where it becomes quite dull and seems to lose its way. That could have easily been overcome in the editing room but as it stands, there are times where the film meanders quite a bit.
The Nightmare is clearly intended to create a spooky and dreamlike atmosphere but Ascher opts for very poor lighting while interviewing his subjects and that makes it very difficult to actually see the people with whom he is speaking. I understand what he was going for but I found it difficult to tolerate. I was actually squinting at my television set in an attempt to make out the subjects. And that ended up distracting me from enjoying the film.
The Nightmare does create awareness for those that suffer from sleep paralysis and certainly does put the audience in their shoes but it still does not sustain viewer interest for very long.
You could definitely do worse than The Nightmare but you could also do quite a bit better. While it has its moments, they are few and far between. It drags more than it doesn’t. The Nightmare is now available on VOD.
WICKED RATING: 3.5/10
Director(s): Rodney Ascher
Studio/ Production Co: Zipper Bros Films
Length: 91 Minutes