The film that spooked Sundance: THE NIGHTMARE


When your mother explicitly says to you “Do Not Eat the chocolate cake in the fridge. Don’t touch it. Don’t even look at it. If you do I’ll enter you into the Hunger Games”, a tricky internal turmoil ensues. What started off as a vague desire to try the cake becomes an unbearable obsession and there’s an 85% chance that you’re going to consume the whole thing the second she leave the kitchen. You know that the consequences will be dire, but somehow that makes the urge even worse.

That is how you will experience THE NIGHTMARE, which shell-shocked the Sundance audience this year. You’ll try to look away, but you can’t. You’ll close your eyes, but some abhorrent force will wrench them open again. As firmly as you are within the grip of fear, as dangerous as it is to continue drinking in these terrible real-life experiences, you cannot help but be drawn to the mysterious phenomena that is sleep paralysis.

Because, as is demonstrated in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, the more you spread the word about sleep paralysis – ‘a phenomenon in which a person, either falling asleep or awakening, temporarily experiences an inability to move, speak, or react’ (wikipedia) – the more people are likely to be ‘visited’ (the 8 profiled sufferers kept calling their episodes “visits” which in itself is just a horrible, horrible thought…). The ROOM 237 director takes no prisoners in this intimate exploration of what the condition really is, in essence. Is it a physiological condition, or supernatural? Is there a “cure” as such? These questions have never been addressed before in such a public way.


Closely comparable with ROOM 237 (which explores conspiracy theories about Stanley Kubrick’s cult horror THE SHINING) in its dramatic treatment of this dark subject matter, THE NIGHTMARE plunges you into a convincing scream-out-loud simulation of 8 real life experiences – scarily comparable in their similarities and descriptions of the “demons”. By taking on a generic horror format in itself, your adrenaline is pumping and your emotional sensitivity heightened which allows the massage to sink in deeper. And sleep paralysis is the perfect horror film material: it’s all about fear of the unknown, surreality, darkness and isolation. So next time you watch INSIDIOUS – the successful horror franchise that explores the theme – remember that you can’t hide behind “it’s not real”. It is.

Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781) appeared in the film to indicate how people have long claimed to have been ‘visited’ by night demons

Once again, Rodney Ascher sadistically twists the knife into this unexplored territory – and yet, it is well trodden ground that we can all relate to. We all have nightmares. And that’s the worst (best?) bit: it could happen to anyone.

Do I wish I’d worn my ‘horror film jumper’ (an oversized pullover to hide within) to see this film? Yes, yes I do.

THE NIGHTMARE will have its UK premier at Film4 Fright Fest on the 29th August and be released in the UK and Ireland on the 9th of October

The Final Word: A nightmare to squirm through, but a documentary-lover’s dream


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