The Nightmare: Living the Dream
Dir. Rodney Ascher (2015)
This documentary takes a look at sleep paralysis: It’s causes, inspirations, and effects on those who suffer from it.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Director Rodney Ascher is interested primarily in fear. His first feature, Room 237, is about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and the many fan theories that circulate around the film. This was his follow-up to his short documentary The S From Hell, about people who were terrified of the Screen Gems logo (seriously). This time, he decides to take a look at sleep paralysis, as told by someone who would much rather be making horror movies. Instead of explaining the phenomena, Ascher decides to present the feeling of sleep paralysis to his audience via vignettes designed to let them experience what it is actually like to suffer from this type of waking nightmare. Unfortunately, what the film delivers in frightening visuals is let down by what it lacks in documentarian ability. There’s no story to be told here besides the ones being explained by his subjects, and no real scientific explanation is ever even attempted. The scientific explanation, by the way, is that they’re nightmares when you’re not quite awake. These people are having CT scans and EEGs to explain nightmares.
I do want to know more about the alien tickle monsters, though.
Having read a good bit on this phenomena, I’m still unconvinced: it all seems kinda meme-y to me. The only people who ever seem to talk about experiencing sleep paralysis are those who have previously heard about it on the internet, and all of the explanations start to blend together as if someone is trying to tell the scariest version of the same story. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe that these people have nightmares. But that is, essentially, all sleep paralysis is; it’s a nightmare that occurs when someone thinks they’re awake. That doesn’t make you special. When one of the subjects talks about his “two different lives,” as in he goes to work in one life and lives another when he’s asleep, I can’t help but thinking “yeah, you’re dreaming, you fucking douchebag.”
I had a dream when I was a kid where I thought I saw a witch standing in my doorway. It was terrifying. To this day, I can remember how scary it was, and I was constantly horrified as a kid by the fear that it would happen again. But hey, guess what: it was a nightmare. I didn’t suffer from some special kind of “Look At Me” disease. Maybe I’m just being a jerk, but I just feel like these people kinda need to grow up and realize that they had bad dreams when they were kids. “They were real, but when I woke up they weren’t there.” Yeah, that’s because they were not real. I can’t even estimate how many times I rolled my eyes while watching this, and I can’t even tell you how disappointed I was after watching what was billed as one of the scariest documentaries ever. It’s not, especially if you don’t buy into the bullshit. It does contain some seeds for a good narrative horror film though, and someone will eventually pick up the concept and make a damn good one. So, at least its got that going for it, which is nice.
The only reason that I can give to watch this movie? It is absolutely fucking hilarious if you don’t take any of it seriously. Some of it’s scary, sure, but more often than not, it’s a guy relating his nightmare as a kid of winning “The Giant Insect of the Month” club, and another guy talking about his thousands of dollars in medical bills and therapy to tell him that he’s having nightmares that are made worse by stress. There are a few people involved who might actually be schizophrenic, which is certainly not funny and requires quite a bit of further help. For those people, I definitely hope that they get some help. For the others, I definitely hope that they shut the hell up, move on with their lives, and stop taking their life’s inspiration from a certain 80’s movie.
You know the one.
Who this movie is for: Horror documentary fans; Horror “documentary” fans; Gullible people
Bottom line: I hated this. Like, absolutely hated this, if the review didn’t clue you in enough. It’s repetitive, ridiculous, and annoying, and I think it irritated me more than any documentary I’ve ever seen. I don’t dismiss these people’s fear, because I believe 100% that they’re terrified. I also think they’re dreaming and just think they’re awake. I dunno, maybe if I could suspend my disbelief a little more, or believed that sleep paralysis was something more than a nightmare when you’re almost awake going into the documentary, maybe I would’ve had a better experience. As it stands, this is one of my least favorite documentaries that I’ve ever seen, which is saying a lot for someone who is forced to sit through documentaries constantly by The Morrigan.