Sunday, 31 May 2015

THE NIGHTMARE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Room 237 Director yields soil-your-pants Doc

The Nightmare (2015)
Dir. Rodney Ascher

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I'm not sure what's scarier -- seeing this movie if you've never experienced sleep paralysis, or if you have. Either way, Room 237 director Rodney Ascher has knocked one right out of the park with this chilling documentary focusing upon one of the most horrific experiences anyone can have in one's sleep (or anytime for that matter) and, of course, the terror one experiences during the light of day, dreading sleep itself. He chose well to make The Nightmare his sophomore feature. Happily, there's absolutely nothing self-indulgent or navel-gazing about it, even though the picture represents a deeply personal endeavour for him to explore experiences people have had with sleep paralysis that were similar to his own bouts with this most unenviable of all night terrors.

His magnificent debut feature, an exploration of those mad obsessives and their theories behind purported hidden symbols in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, now seems like a mere appetizer to the main course of his new picture. Herein, he interviews eight subjects who've experienced lifetimes of sheer terror, sometimes appearing onscreen himself in conversation with them (and certainly within the context of his own experience), Ascher recreates their "nightmares" with the assured touch of a true master of suspense.

The Nightmare is a documentary designed to curdle the blood and its director pulls it off with piercing, unsettling aplomb.

Sleep paralysis is a genuine physiological/psychological experience -- it usually occurs in those strange periods just before settling into REM or on the tail end of a deep sleep. I experienced it quite relentlessly in the early 80s and it's something I've never forgotten, but luckily, in the past two decades I've not been assaulted by it. I hope it never, ever happens again.

What happens during sleep paralysis is simple -- you're awake in your mind, but not in your body and experience a living nightmare that's seemingly impossible to wake from. You become completely immobile, weighted down as if you've lost all power to move. Often you feel like someone or something is holding you in a vicelike grip -- physically pinning you to your bed.

A number of the participants in the film describe the inability to move, but eventually, Ascher structures his interviews so that a number of them reveal and then describe the pain inflicted by creepy visitors to their respective psyches. People all over the world have seen similar figures, three dimensional shadows: some resembling humans, but many bearing the physical properties of living beings that are decidedly not human.

The film delves into a variety of areas surrounding this horrible phenomenon, the numerous hows, whys, wheres, whens and whats, but most phenomenally, delivering several compelling real-life dramatic arcs - everything from acceptance to full-on battle with whatever sleep paralysis really is. Far too many physicians look upon it as a mental illness or as the severest form of sleep apnea. The MDs and specialists try, unsuccessfully, to treat it as such.

Those who do beat sleep paralysis, often find ways to do it all on their own, succumbing intentionally into experiencing the terror, allowing themselves, in their dream states to open themselves up to the experiences of sleep paralysis to the absolute fullest of their abilities to do so. Such confrontations can prove so cathartic that they can literally be healing forces. In other instances, they don't go away, but can be managed. Sadly, in others, though, the song (as it were) remains the same.

For me, I love that one of the film's participants acknowledges the great physicist Michio Kaku (I'm a huge fan of his writing). Kaku's theories regarding the notion that the universe and its inhabitants live within several dimensions at once, but most often not being aware of it and that in all waves of being, entities, including ourselves, wander unwittingly into other reaches, other planes of reality. (Most sickeningly, though, is the thought that some do it quite willingly.)

Whatever the real reasons for sleep paralysis, though, I'm delighted a serious, artistically stellar documentary has finally been made to address it.

As a filmmaker, Ascher's also proven here to be no one-trick pony after his uniquely compelling first feature. His eye is impeccable and he's layered this film with one of the creepiest soundscapes in many a picture. Ascher's the real thing and then some.

As such, The Nightmare is, in and of itself, the real thing and then some -- a great documentary and one of the scariest pictures of the year.

Prepare to soil yourself.


The Nightmare is playing theatrically in Toronto at the Royal Cinema -- a great venue to experience some of the most dazzling displays of picture and sound in the country, especially with this visually and aurally rich film. I understand the management of the Royal will provide Depend Adult Diapers to those who fear they might unload in, uh, fear. This will hopefully save the plush, comfortable seats of the cinema from the, uh, shall we say, leakages.