01 June 2015

Rodney Ascher's THE NIGHTMARE


USA, 2015
Director: Rodney Ascher


With the insane The-Shining-documentary "Room 237" and the fun "Q is for Questionnaire"-segment for "The ABCs of Death 2", versatile filmmaker Rodney Ascher proved to be one of THE most promising genre directors to look out for, and early Sundance-buzz for his latest documentary has indicated that he has another hit on his hands. Unfotunately, "The Nightmare" doesn't live up to the hype and falls short of expectations.

With "The Nightmare" (named after the famous painting of the same name by Henry Fuseli), Ascher tries to explore one of the most mysterious, most unpleasant sleep disorders: "Sleep paralysis", a bizarre phenomenon in which a person falls into a transitional state between sleep, wakefulness and insomnia, temporarily experiencing an inability to speak, move or react, mostly accompanied by horrifying nightmares and hallucinations.

The documentary is centered around 8 different people who all suffer, or suffered, from Sleep paralysis. They discuss how this phenomenon has affected their lives and the lives of their friends/partners/relatives, how they tried (and/or failed) to cope with it, giving us great insight in how horrible it must feel to be semi-awake and paralyzed whilst mysterious creatures and figures are coming into your room, watching you, trying to hurt you, scaring the living hell out of you.
For a better understandig, Ascher reenacted all of the 8 subject's nightmares and experiences, resulting into shitloads of creepy clips depicting odd "shadow men", flying "blobs" and frightening semi-aliens with ghastly grimaces.

The interviews are all very well done and informative, and the nightmare-clips are all stunningly filmed and stylish-looking, at times very reminiscent of the works by Argento or Bava. Nevertheless, "The Nightmare" fails to impress because of one simple reason: repetitiveness. For 90 minutes, the whole thing follows the same pattern: interview, reenactment, interview, reenactment ad infinitum, ad infinitum - and there are no doctors, no scientists, no-one who could give us a little more information about the origins/sources of Sleep paralysis. It's just the 8 people over and over again, and since many of the nightmares are very akin to each other, it's basically the same images and figures over and over again.

No, it's not boring, but the overall repetitiveness is kinda tiring and after a while, you're growing weary of it. Several parts that highly interested me weren't properly discussed (trying to heal Sleep paralysis with white noise, possible connections to alien abduction...), while other parts simply get discussed to death. In the movie's most fascinating part, Ascher compares the nightmares to movies like "A Nightmare on Elm Street", "Insidious" and "Communion" - that part is actually so damn fascinating, I wished the whole doco would focus on comparing nightmares to movies.

Final verdict: solid but underwhelming.

Thanks to Jenny Bloom (Prodigy PR) for the screener!


  1. This is going on my list (of films I want to watch but never seem to get a round to).

    I hope you're well :)

    1. That list is getting longer and longer and longer... ;-)

  2. Heard good things. I've always had similar sleep disorders too.

    1. In this case, you just have to see it!


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