Magazine article Screen International

The Nightmare

Magazine article Screen International

The Nightmare

Article excerpt

Dir/scr: Rodney Ascher. US. 2014. 90mins

As with his fascinating inquiry into the conspiracy theories hidden inside Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, Rodney Ascher's unique documentary The Nightmare dwells in the realm of people's unreliable subjectivities. The film surveys eight people suffering from what is likely a diagnosable condition called "sleep paralysis." But rather than offer medical experts, psychoanalytic studies, or neurological research, The Nightmare plunges viewers into the spooky depths of its subjects' upsetting bedtime experiences.

The Nightmare may briefly acknowledge that sleep paralysis may be caused by stress, but the movie is more interested in the occasional jump-out-of-your-seat shudder, and the (possibly) unexplainable things that go bump in the night.

With its genre trappings--complete with monster FX and shock cuts--The Nightmare should garner modest box-office art-house sales. But more likely, a larger audience of insomniacs and nightcrawlers alike will seek out the film in the dead of night on smaller screens.

One-third spine-tingler and two-thirds interview-driven nonfiction, The Nightmare begins with text on screen, stating the etymology of the word "nightmare"--which comes from Middle English words for "evil spirit," or "incubus."

Subsequently, the film unfolds in chapter-like sections, which tease out several reoccurring themes in the subject's nightmares and how they attempt to deal with them. An introductory segment presents a range of symptoms that are common among a wide swath of people: they speak of feeling paralyzed or frozen as they drift off to sleep; then a sense of vibrations or an electrical charge; and then the nightmare itself arrives, which almost always features the arrival of dark and threatening shadowy figures creeping around their beds. As one woman testifies, "That's when the Shadowman would come towards me."

Ascher seems to be playing with the idea that these nocturnal visitors could be some unexplainable supernatural force, existing outside the realm of physiology or psychology. At least, that's what many of these besieged interviewees believe, as they become increasingly agitated, aggrieved, and left unaided by the medical community.

One section elucidates the varying ways that people try to cope. A young man attempts to negotiate with his demons by leaving a TV turned on all night, which gets him a reprieve for about a year. …

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