The Nightmare is a new documentary film about sleep paralysis, the sleep disorder where you are just falling asleep or just waking up and you are completely conscious but your body is paralyzed (due to sleep chemicals) and your mind is offering up auditory and visual hallucinations like you are dreaming.
As a documentary, this movie is a failure. It’s structure is that of interviews with eight people who suffer different levels of the condition and they provide some really unsettling and freaky re-enactments of the scenarios. What it doesn’t do is offer much analysis of the condition beyond some cursory notes that people around the world experience it as different bits of mythology and some lip service to it being a medical condition.
Really the movie is more interested in just being the strangest horror movie I’ve ever seen – a documentary / interview horror film that is designed to fill you up on nightmare fuel. And, in that sense, it really works… the imagery it presents can sometimes be really freaky. So this is, perhaps, a brand new type or sub genre or horror and that’s pretty interesting all on its own.
If you are unaware, the most unsettling thing about sleep paralysis is that it often includes the feeling you are being watched by a malevolent force… or that you actually see Shadow People in your room (or evil cats for some reason). The fact that people all over the world experience the same type of hallucination either suggests its people seeing “beyond the veil” or that our sleeping mind creates similar horrors and warnings for us, alerting us to danger that in a way that would normally wake us up but since we are in such a weird state, you can’t so the nightmare continues down its logical course.
One of the better segments of the film is how the people interviewed saw the symptoms of sleep paralysis in popular culture. They provide clips of A Nightmare on Elm Street, the movie Communion, Natural Born Killers, and Insidious as examples of film makers recreating the imagery and conditions without ever being directly about sleep paralysis.
It also offers a cursory examinations of art work throughout history that is likely the old painters trying to express what it feels like. The most famous is The Nightmare (see attached image). It also provides vague suggestions that what you experience is colored by your cultural view… like you might interpret the experience a demons or alien abductions.
I used to experience this condition with some level of a feeling of being watched or, in one particular case, that there was black dog sitting above me. I still have the condition but the hallucinations have gone away. It was interesting hearing some of the same physical descriptions in the movie and the same exploration and discovery of what was going on. I remember reading about it, finally, on the internet and in the book The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan and going “OH, I get it.” The people in the movie often attribute it to real psychic haunting type stuff.
So, yeah, this is a good movie is you want to freak yourself out or get a healthy dose of nightmare fuel. It won’t offer particularly satisfying explanations, analysis, or history, all of which are very fascinating in and of themselves. But this is still one of the better horror movies I’ve seen in awhile.