Hot Docs 2015: The Nightmare (Capsule Review)

The Nightmare 3

With The Nightmare, filmmaker Rodney Ascher (Room 237) explores sleep paralysis, a little-understood phenomenon in which a person on the cusp of sleep or wakefulness finds him or herself temporarily unable to move or speak. Most of those who experience such an episode will do so only once or a handful of times, but the focus of The Nightmare is eight individuals who have suffered from sleep paralysis on a regular basis–some on a nightly basis–over the course of their lives.

It’s not uncommon for episodes to be accompanied by visual or auditory stimuli, a sense of physical pressure on the chest, and a feeling of an evil presence nearby. (Having experienced sleep paralysis myself, I hesitate to call these “hallucinations.”) However, the film’s subjects report additional phenomena that goes above and beyond these: shadowy figures, spiritual entities, waking and/or lucid dreams. Each subject’s take on the phenomena is different: a man who sees the condition as a virus, a woman who interprets her experiences as demonic attacks.

Ascher connects these reports (and his own experiences) with folklore from across the world and descriptions of “alien abductions” to create an engaging overview of the phenomenon and the effects it’s had on both individuals and our culture as a whole. But he doesn’t stop there, deploying the grammar of horror cinema to create a documentary that doesn’t just inform but is also sleep-with-the-lights-on-scary. I can’t recommend this one any more highly.

Screeens
Monday, April 27, 9:45 PM, Hart House Theatre
Tuesday, April 28, 1:15 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Saturday, May 2, 9:15 PM, Revue Cinema
Sunday, May 3, 9:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox

Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.