Everybody sleeps and everybody dreams, but not everyone has sleep disorders or issues. Some suffer insomnia, sleep apnoea and others suffer from sleep paralysis. For the uninitiated sleep paralysis is exactly what it sounds like, being asleep but being unable to move. Feeling that there is nothing you can do, maybe you feel a pressure keeping you down or maybe you are seeing strange demons while in this state. This is the premise for the latest documentary from Rodney Ascher, whose last film ROOM 237 examined the hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING, this is THE NIGHTMARE.
THE NIGHTMARE sounds like an interesting documentary, examining a very terrifying issue that people suffer. The beginning is actually quite terrifying with people from different places recounting their first experiences with sleep paralysis. The re-enactments that are blended in with the person telling their stories are scary and very frightening. The visuals are top notch, and at first it makes one feel very uneasy and it makes sleep paralysis seem like the worst thing someone could experience. But that is sadly where the positives end for this film, because essentially all THE NIGHTMARE is is people talking about their dreams, while re-enactments are being shown.
Sure at first these stories are interesting, but after 20 or so minutes, you really don’t need to hear anymore. One man in particular seemed to perhaps suffer from a mental illness, but this is not addressed at all. We are supposed to take this all at face value with nothing being done to investigate or examine what these people are saying they experienced. There is no doctors or experts on sleep paralysis talking or offering any kind of explanation. Instead as the film progresses the stories these people tell become even weirder, and some believe in 4th dimensions and demons, and that their sleep paralysis is maybe supernatural or how it turned them to God.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, experiences can lead people to find religion or their faith, but when this film offers nothing up it fails at what it has set out to do. We cannot just accept that this sleep disorder is a demonic possession, or ghosts or something from the 4th dimension. Where is the examination of what it actually is? These people do not really discuss seeing doctors or having tests run or even going through a sleep study. They just do not seem like the right people for a documentary on this subject. No explaining is done, nothing is made clear, why were these people chosen for this? There are no answers, and to be quite honest despite being technically a good film (well shot, affective re-enactments ect), this is not an overall good film. The potential for something interesting and really thought provoking was there, but the potential was completed wasted.
Some ideas are presented that were fairly decent although not entirely new, such as A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET representing sleep paralysis, or alien abduction cases could be just extreme sleep paralysis in people. However this is not at all explored in any way, they didn’t speak to anyone who thought they had an alien abduction and found out they were suffering sleep paralysis. The one man who made the connection between the beings he saw during sleep paralysis and aliens doesn’t say he thought they abducted him or anything of the sort. He simply makes the connection after seeing the film COMMUNION with Christopher Walken and assumes that maybe those ‘crazy’ people who believed in alien abduction suffered the disorder. This could have been so well examined as well as looking further into films and whether they had intended to have the sleep paralysis connection. But nope, instead these people just talk and drone on offering nothing.
Whilst there is nothing wrong about a documentary that solely features people talking about their experiences, this offered nothing else at all. They only talked about the one thing, with nothing else on offer. It looses its steam after around 20 minutes and the rest of the film is quite the chore to sit through. This should have been so much more, the potential completely wasted here. A horrifying sleep disorder should make for a fantastic documentary, instead they made it into (pardon the words used) a snooze fest. Very disappointing, and this is not a film that I feel I can not recommend.