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

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.