Hot Docs 2015: The Nightmare Review


A follow up to his 2012 feature Room 237 which explored interpretations of Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic, The Shining, Rodney Ascher has produced a real life  horror film, chronicling the experiences of people suffering sleep paralysis, a condition inducing frighteningly real hallucinations that can plague an individual for years without end. 

While Room 237 relied on audio interviews, found footage and film clips, Ascher is given a substantial budget to create sets, and re-create real life experiences of his interview subjects, which appear on-screen in this film. Employing a spectre-like floating camera, subjects recall their experiences in vivid detail, which are brought to life through the magic of cinema, for one of the more suspenseful and creepy films I have had the privilege of watching in a long time.

Many of the subjects suffering sleep paralysis experience seeing an image of a “shadow man” that haunts them night after night, they often feel hovering over them while they lay helpless in bed. Ascher brings these frightening spectres to life, creating surreal, teeth-chattering terror in the viewer. Perhaps, that this condition is factual and well-documented, speaks to the immediacy one feels watching the film. Ascher and his team surpass themselves in an effort to have the audience experience a similar terror as his subjects. 


Far more polished and decidedly better paced than Room 237, Ascher joins the ranks of a choice few that have successfully bridged the gap between documentary and horror film, making The Nightmare a must-see for fans of the genre or the anyone seeking a genuinely fear-inducing experience – on a personal note, I am not ashamed to admit the film stayed dormant in my subconscious for days until one morning, at 3AM, I awoke with a very real fear that someone or something was hiding in the shadows. Surely, The Nightmare‘s uncanny ability to claw itself into your brain is the sign of a well-made horror film. 


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