We are helpless victims of our own brains. The brain is like that shitty roommate you had in college who knows you are deathly afraid of clowns, yet creeps into your room late at night dressed as Pennywise (seriously… fuck you, Travis). ‘The Nightmare’ (2015) directed by Rodney Ascher, shows us just how much of a dick our brains can be to us. It is a documentary featuring a half dozen or so victims of sleep paralysis, and takes painstaking detail to re-enact the various nightmares that people experience when suffering from this bizarre disorder. The Nightmare struck a very dark and terrifying chord with me because I am also maligned by the very same problem. Symptoms often include waking up in the middle of the night to a strange feeling of being held down or otherwise unable to move, and you notice a dark shadowy entity (always wearing a hat for some reason) in the room who just can not get enough of staring at you. No matter what you do or how you struggle, you are helpless against the shadow’s will and it is possibly the most real and terrifying thing you will ever experience.
(Can we take some time to talk to you about Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints?)
The two most intriguingly horrible things about The Nightmare is the way that the afflicted tell their stories and the production quality behind the recreation of those accounts. The film sets the pace early on with an eerie story about a small boy who gets an ominous message from the television during the weather report. He was promised a visit, and then the documentary takes you by the hand and down that moldy dank hole in your mind that you never knew was there. I was pretty much transfixed to the screen as I listened to each person struggle to discern the line between reality and dream. The most interesting thing to me was not so much the similarities between me and the people I was watching, but the differences. For example, I’ve never had static like aliens travel obscene distances across the galaxy to tickle me in bed.
The Nightmare outlines the way some people like myself have to go to battle every night just to get some rest. For those of you who have never experienced it, a visit from the shadow people can be traumatizing. It does not feel or look like any dream you have ever had, because it feels super real. You ‘wake up’ (for lack of a better word) and you could swear on your life that it really happened. The truth is however that it was all a trick of your physiology. Sleep Paralysis happens when your REM sleep is disrupted. To keep you from acting out any crazy dreams, your brain puts you into a state of complete muscle atonia. This is paired with terrifying hallucinations from which you cannot react. Your muscles are on lock-down to protect you from rolling over and breaking your neck as it wrenches between your bed and nightstand. Seeing fucked up shit while you are hopelessly frozen results in a type of primal fear that could never be put in words. It is a total mystery why I have not grown up to be the most dysfunctional person on Earth.
Sleep paralysis is such a common thing (currently about 3 million sufferers in the US alone) that every culture from around the world has their own version and label for the monster that haunts them in the darkness. In fact, the modern word ‘nightmare’ stems from sleep paralysis. It was widely considered the work of demons, and more specifically incubi, which were thought to sit on the chests of sleepers. In Old English the name for these beings was mare or mære, hence the mare in the word nightmare. What I’m trying to say is, unless you have experienced sleep paralysis, you haven’t actually had a nightmare. You’ve just had scary dreams, and even the most lucid of dreams does not compare to a real nightmare.
You will definitely want to know more about sleep paralysis after watching The Nightmare. However, if you are among those afflicted by it, please don’t forget that you are not alone, and the shadow people will always be watching you.
Born and raised in San Diego California, I grew up loving the action horror and sci-fi genres. The first R rated film I saw was Predator back when I was 8 years old. Aliens blew me away as a youngster and I made a M41-A pulse rifle out of paper towel rolls and rubber bands. I ran around for hours avoiding face huggers and blasting xenomorphs in my back yard and I am bringing that big imagination to Nevermore Horror.