Hot Docs 2015: The Nightmare – Rodney Ascher

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Eschewing objectivity, or any real investigation into the phenomena and instead focussing on sharing the experience, The Nightmare is quite possibly the first true horror documentary. Director Rodney Ascher sits down and chats with 8 people, Jeff, Ana, Kate, Korinne, Stephen, Chris, Connie and Forrest, people who suffer from the terrifying phenomena of sleep paralysis. I’ve been very fortunate in my dream life, in that I have never experienced a nightmare, so I find the subject fascinating, and, honestly, more than a little frightening.

These eight people invite us into their most personal spaces; their bedrooms and their terrors. Their nights are filled with haunted sleep, in that cross-section where the sub-conscious mind interacts with reality, aware of their surroundings, but literally unable to move, trapped in their own bodies as they endure frightening visitations that challenge their perceptions of reality as well their spirituality. The majority of the group is convinced that something real is happening to them, as opposed to how Charles Dickens may have reacted, ‘You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!’

What I find fascinating is some of the shared iconography that permeates their dreamscapes, shadow people, usually watched over or led by one referred to  as Hatman, others include shapes that emanate evil, and have glowing red eyes. Where does that come from? Some shared cultural memory? A mis-firing neuron? Fragments of some primordial holdover from early man? Or do we even embrace the idea that something real is happening here? Whatever is causing these night terrors, these people are undeniably suffering and Ascher’s film plunges us right into it, throwing us into the deep end of the dream pool as we are left to come up with our own answers, and combat the frightening imagery moving menacingly towards us.

Aescher’s pacing and style of storytelling adds a sense of unease to the film, and I’d love to hear more about all of the film’s participants’ experiences, including the directors, who doesn’t speak much of his own dealings with the phenomena.

Have you had any experiences like this? Have you had nightmares? Reach out to me or Sue, as I would love to hear more about this phenomena… My interest has been piqued…

The Nightmare screens three more times during the festival, today at 1:15 at the Lightbox, Saturday, 2 May at 9:15pm at the Revue Cinema and Sunday, 3 May at 9:30 the Lightbox!

See it, and then share your stories with me!

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