Saturday, June 06, 2015

“The Nightmare”– Movie Review



This week, I attended the opening night of the new documentary “The Nightmare” at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center.


Sufferers of a sleeping disorder known as “sleep paralysis” are interviewed about their condition – and how they have learned to deal with it over the years. 


Around the country – and around the world – there are many people who suffer from something that is commonly known as “sleep paralysis”.  Individuals with sleep paralysis experience frightening illusions that seem all too real to those who live through them but sound like ordinary nightmares to the uninitiated who can’t understand the depth of realism from these occurrences.  In fact, according to the stories reported about some people around the world who have had sleep paralysis, some of the events have been so treacherous that they have even resulted in death. 

While interviews with each of the eight participants reveal unique experiences with the disorder, there are also quite a few similarities as well.  One of these similarities happens to be the fact that there is the existence of what many of the interviewees referred to as “The Shadow Man”.  The Shadow Man is a being that exists in the sleep paralysis of all sufferers; he is basically an individual who may appear as somewhat human but not exactly.  Shadow Man often appears in the bedroom of the one suffering from this disorder or he can be an apparition that is outside of the home but peers into the bedroom.  The term Shadow Man comes from the fact that details or their appearance are indistinguishable due to the fact that they are mere silhouettes. 

Another characteristic shared by sleep paralysis sufferers is the fact that none of them can either speak or move when they are experiencing these perceived threats.  Thus the term paralysis – they are unable to scream or fight off these Shadow Men who appear to them for the sole purpose of torturing them during their sleep.  Many of the sleep paralysis sufferers started to have these visions when they were children; while some can point to specific childhood traumas that may have been the trigger for all of those, others cannot – and as a result, the reason remains a mystery to them until this day. 


Sleep paralysis is certainly a fascinating concept for a documentary, yet the filmmaker manages to make its story so boring, the documentary itself induces oscitancy.  Over and over, the audience is treated to interviews with sufferers of this sleeping disorder to the point that you just want to jump up and scream, “OK, I get it!  Let’s move on, already!”  Instead, we are forced to hear more and more about each individual’s experience to the point that the movie itself seems like its own nightmare.  The story is ultimately very flat and goes absolutely nowhere; one gets the sense that any given scene could be easily edited to appear in a different portion of the movie and it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

The redundant nature of “The Nightmare” begs the question, “What do the experts think?” not too long into the documentary.  Sadly – and this may in fact be the reason why it fails as a film – there are absolutely no interviews with physicians or psychologists on this matter.  This results in a very self-indulgent vanity piece that feels much longer than its hour and a half.   Infusing the documentary with professional commentary would have ultimately made all the difference in the world.  There needed to be a balance in telling this story and such balance is noticeably lacking.

Following the screening, there was a question and answer session between the audience and the director of “The Nightmare”, Rodney Ascher.  Ascher had previously done a very well-received documentary called “Room 237”, an analysis of the horror movie “The Shining”.  He admitted that the reason why he did “The Nightmare” was because he himself suffered from sleep paralysis for many years.  The reason for the absence of expert commentary, according to Ascher, was due to the fact that he wanted his documentary to consist solely of first person experiences about this disorder. 


The Nightmare (2015) on IMDb

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