Sleep Paralysis in “The Nightmare” (2015)

The Nightmare (2015)

Director: Rodney Ascher

Starring: Yatoya Toy, Siegfried Peters, Steven Yvette, Age Wilson, Elise Robson, Nicole Bosworth

Guys. I  have a lot of thoughts about this documentary, but I’ll keep this review short. As someone who battled sleep paralysis daily for 19 years, I had high hopes and expected The Nightmare (2015) to shed new information about the misunderstood sleep condition. Instead, I got weak re-enactments of the documentary subjects’ hallucinations and zero scientific clarification about sleep paralysis. There’s literally one sentence in the opening credits explaining what sleep paralysis is, and then discordant montages of “alien abductions,” “demonic possessions,” “Shadowman,” and other paranoid conspiracy theories linking sleep paralysis with the paranormal.

To say I’m disappointed is an understatement. So let me break it down for you without scare tactics.

What is sleep paralysis? In a nutshell, it’s a physiological disorder that happens during the REM sleep cycle when the sufferer awakens while the body is still immobilized from sleep. The dream continues to play outside their mind while they are paralyzed and aware. This can be a very frightening experience and can sometimes leads to panic attacks, hallucinations, and anxiety. Every person with sleep paralysis experiences their own unique cocktail of symptoms, but ones most people share are:

1. Full-body paralysis–unable to open or close eyes, sit up, or open mouth to call for help

2. Buzzing, banging, and other auditory hallucinations (some people hear screams or disembodied voices)

3. Heavy feeling weighing down the chest (can feel like being smothered or forcibly restrained)

4. Sensing an outside “presence” hovering above or near the body

If you’re like me, you also get crazy, intense hallucinations and temporary amnesia. I used to wake up each morning not even remembering what my name was. Panic attacks and night terrors haunted me almost every night, and as a child I slept in bathtubs at sleepovers, hid inside kitchen sink cabinets, and laid awake for hours, to the point of exhaustion, just to avoid falling asleep. I found no relief until starting relaxation therapy with a professional therapist.

It is tempting to link sleep paralysis with demons, alien abductions, and other paranormal phenomena, but I assure you, sleep paralysis is a medical condition and can and SHOULD be treated. I only wish the filmmakers had taken a scientific approach instead of misleading people.

If I were to judge this documentary for its entertainment value, it’d still get a lackluster grade. I’m afraid I can’t recommend The Nightmare (2015) to anyone who actually has sleep paralysis. It is triggering. Make time to “cool down” after watching the film (if you choose to watch it at all!) For everyone else, meh, if you like cheesy re-enactments with unconvincing graphics, this documentary is chocked full of them. Giving this one a “D.”

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