Movie Review: ‘THE NIGHTMARE’ – A Terrifying Doc About Sleep Paralysis


Preston Barta // Features Editor

Director: Rodney Ascher
Cast: Yatoya Toy, Siegfried Peters, Steven Yvette, Age Wilson and Rodney Ascher

Sleep paralysis is a terrifying condition. It’s when someone is either falling asleep or awakening and temporarily experiences an ability to move or speak. This is actually a condition that plagues my life. It’s the absolute worst horror you could ever imagine– your mind seizes you prisoner and gives you tactile hallucinations. This is what Rodney Ascher’s absolutely riveting documentary film THE NIGHTMARE centers on.

THE NIGHTMARE ratchets up dread through a series of frightening recounts. Eight individuals tell their stories of how often they find themselves trapped between the worlds of sleep and awake, completely unable to react when a shadowy figure or demonic presence enters their dreams. They may be aware of their surroundings but they are also subject to frequent disturbing sights and sounds.


“The shadow man” in THE NIGHTMARE. Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.

In 2013, Ascher directed another outstanding doc titled ROOM 237, where we heard from film theorists who believe they decoded Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING. So there’s no doubt Ascher is familiar with the horror genre. You can clearly see his admiration and understanding of horror in his films. Perhaps one of the most compelling things about Ascher is how he tries to make his documentaries more than just documentaries. It’s not news that documentaries don’t quite garner the same attention as feature films. However, documentaries can provide us with the most interesting of stories, especially something as original as sleep paralysis.

With THE NIGHTMARE, Ascher melds the worlds of documentary and feature filmmaking. He includes the “talking head” approach but uses swift and creative shots, spooky lighting and color, and haunting music to make audiences feel as though they are watching a feature film. And the way Ascher recreates people’s dreams is some of the scariest imagery put on film. It doesn’t feel cheap or outlandish. It feels real, which is why THE NIGHTMARE is not your average documentary. I wouldn’t even categorize it as a documentary. It’s its own thing.

The film digs deep into not only the particulars of the eight people’s otherworldly experiences, but it also explores the subjects’ research to understand their condition and how it has effected their lives. It’s a peculiar condition that has also led me to do research of my own. Is it some kind of weird bridge from earth and hell? Is it something mystical? Or, are we just people who have nightmares worse than others? These are all questions that are explored in THE NIGHTMARE. However, Ascher isn’t much interested in the science of the condition; he’s fixed on these people’s terrors, how they go about it and make sense of it.

THE NIGHTMARE will fry your nerves and haunt you as you exit the theater. Give it your attention– it deserves it.

THE NIGHTMARE opens today in select theaters, and is also available on iTunes and Video-On-Demand.
Dallas-Ft. Worth: Texas Theatre tonight at 10:15 p.m.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.