What’s the worst night’s sleep you’ve ever had?
However bad it may have been The Nightmare delves into something worse: the nighttime torment of eight sufferers of sleep paralysis — a condition equally notable for bizarre and terrifying visions.
From visitations by shadowy figures — more literally, figures made of shadow — to out-of-body experiences, Rodney Ascher’s documentary relies on firsthand testimony as opposed to scientific evidence: they all seem to the agree that the medical community seems singularly unable to offer remedy for the condition.
The film commits to genuinely creepy recreations, taking its cues from classic ’80s horror — in particular, Phantasm comes to mind (acknowledging here that this was released in 1979) — augmented by Jonathan Snipes’ suitably unsettling score. Scenarios throughout the genre, most recently in Insidious, suggest directors may themselves be familiar with the condition.
The use of inter-titles lends a certain somber tone to an otherwise free-form exploration. Talk of seeing into parallel universes could evoke cynicism — one sufferer’s experiences are distinctly Roswell — but the shared mythology that builds up around them is certainly absorbing. One of these visitors is shown passing backstage between the bedroom sets, perhaps pulling a sinister double shift.
Ascher displays similarly playful sensibilities to Room 237, his cult examination of Kubrick’s The Shining. An anecdote that suggests sleep paralysis may be communicable is alarming3, but these glimpses at the “other side” — and the strange gravitas of many of its victims — may have you perversely curious to experience it for yourself.
EDIT: Heading to bed now and I’ve already changed my mind. Nope, nope, nope. Do Not Want.