Welcome to October Everyone.
I was hoping to watch a good horror movie this weekend. There are a lot of decent looking ones coming up over the next few weeks but, for now, my options for horror at the theater were reduced to one movie, Flatliners, and I decided to take a pass. It’s still a great concept for a movie, but even the original fell short of it’s potential in my opinion. Maybe in the right hands this story could be fleshed out into an amazing work but considering Sony’s dismal results with some of my favorite franchises, and the fact that the Flatliners trailer looks exactly like more of the same, I don’t think they’ll be getting any of my money this time around.
I watched Gerald’s game which was new to Netflix on Friday. When I was younger, I had a copy of the novel and—even at that point in my life where I was so obsessed with King that would have read just about anything that had his name on it—I could never get into the book and I stopped about halfway through. Now older and changed as a person, I thought I’d give this movie the button click and 103 minutes that it cost me—even if for no other reason than to see how the story ended. I did make it all the way through and, while not a bad movie (I did think the acting was very well done), I still didn’t find the story to be very interesting, and so I don’t really have anything interesting to say about it. Plus, I already did a review of “It” three weeks ago and I don’t want it all to be about the King.
I had no good ideas and, as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t just spend the whole weekend watching old horror movies, waiting for one to grab my interest. I’m currently underway on writing the first draft of my novel and I had some research to do. Then, it occurred to me. I remembered about a year ago when I watched the first few minutes of a film called “The Nightmare” by Director Rodney Ascher, that was also on Netflix. It’s a documentary on people’s experiences with sleep paralysis and, not only was it exactly what I was looking for to help with my research, I felt like it would make an interesting subject for this week’s review.
Now, when I say this movie is a documentary, it might bring up a certain impression in your mind of what that might look like and, if you’re looking or a horror movie review, you might think it doesn’t really qualify—but hear me out. It’s almost like 1/4 documentary, and 3/4 narrated re-enactments of true events. Think Celebrity Ghost Stories (or if you’re from closer to my time, maybe unsolved mysteries), but more frightening.
So, of the 3/4 that makes up the dramatization,
and 2/3 of that dramatization is pure horror movie, in the spirit of Insidious or the Conjuring.
Now, 2/3 of 3/4, um… three times… uh… carry the seven… Yes, It’s half. It officially contains 50% horror movie, by volume, and therefore still qualifies for a review. Trust me, I’m an engineer.
Anyway, Carrying on… In case you don’t know what sleep paralysis is, it’s defined in Wikipedia as a phenomenon where “during awakening or falling asleep, one is aware but unable to move. During an episode, one may hear, feel, or see things that are not there. It often results in fear.”
Spooky huh? Somehow, the clinical definition doesn’t really capture the feel of these events. They can be horrifying and traumatizing experiences that appear to be every bit as real as your everyday waking reality, often involving dark, shadowy entities watching or even tormenting the sleeper while they are unable to speak or move: threatening them, touching them, even climbing into bed with them. The idea that the creatures “are not there” seems to be of little comfort when you’re face to face with a demonic monster who seems insistent that he is, in fact, very real. This phenomenon can last for years, or even decades, a lifetime of nightly visits, often by the same recurring characters, it would be enough to make anyone question what “real” even means anyway.
As someone who enjoys scary stories, roller coasters, and most other ways of frightening oneself, and also, as someone who is curious about the subconscious and the unexplained, this subject is fascinating to me. Even still I have no interest in ever personally experiencing an event like this myself. It’s just a little too up close and personal for my tastes.
Produced with quality special effects and sound, the terrifying stories from each of the eight subjects are fully brought to life, simultaneously making you sympathize with them in how traumatic these episodes must be, while also giving you the good old-fashioned scares that you would expect from any good horror movie. I was watching it by myself, in the dark, at full volume with surround sound and, more than once, I found myself peering around the room taking a closer look at some suspicious looking shadows. I don’t remember ever feeling that way about unsolved mysteries.
There are a couple of good jump scares. In fact. there are some “real” horror movies that could take a lesson from this film on jump scares. Specifically, when you don’t overdo them and focus more on creating tension and atmosphere, you allow the audience to sink deeper into the movie. Then, when you do finally hammer them, it has the impact you’re looking for and you’re not just constantly reminding them that they’re watching a movie.
I also enjoyed some of the cut-scenes that used a backstage style transition between the bedrooms of the various interviewees. Even showing the entities changing their costume as they passed from one bedroom to another. I thought it was a clever idea, and maybe there was a bit of meaning behind it, showing how it’s one phenomenon with a number of different faces. Maybe even suggesting the possibility that these events weren’t entirely contained in the minds of these people.
This theme is explored later in the documentary. It seems that all but one of the eight who were interviewed seem to believe, to one degree or another, that there is more going on with their condition than what science and medicine currently offer as an explanation. In fact, this documentary provides very little in the way of scientific or other materialistic explanation at all, choosing to focus almost exclusively on the subjective experiences of the interviewees. Viewers who are looking for a more traditional style of documentary might feel like this element is conspicuously absent.
Personally, I think its intention was only to show what sleep paralysis feels like from the inside. That’s exactly what I was looking for in my research (it will play a significant role in my new novel) and I feel like this work pulled it off perfectly. If you are looking for the scientific view on the subject, there are many videos and articles online that can be watched/read as a companion to this movie and will provide that additional perspective. I know because I’ve watched/read quite a few of them myself. I’m glad they didn’t add this information into the film because I feel it would have broken the pacing and ruined the dramatic effect that the filmmakers were going for.
So if you’re curious about the phenomenon of sleep paralysis, whether you might believe that there’s something more going on, or if you’re just interested in listening to the stories, it’s a fascinating movie that’s worth a watch. Next time you’re flipping around on Netflix, looking for something new, turn off the lights, turn up the sound, and give it a try.
I give The Nightmare 4 out of 5 sleepless nights.