Thank God for VOD! – The Nightmare

I don’t get to go to the movies as often as I’d like to, but that doesn’t mean I can’t watch awesome flicks at home. Thank God for VOD!

thenightmareThe Nightmare

When I was in college, during my freshman year when I lived in a dorm, I had a three-hour patch in between classes and would usually head back to my room to nap for a little while. One afternoon, I faded to black with a stream of music videos playing on Much Music (some weirdo Canadian version of MTV that for some reason aired in Austin, Texas)…and then I woke up. Or at least I thought I woke up. I felt my eyes open and peer around the room. I don’t remember if the TV was still on or not. It was light, but everything felt off. The dorm room felt surreal and heavy, and I couldn’t move. As hard as I tried, as much effort as I put into even lifting an arm or rolling over, there was just no budging. My limbs felt like all the weight in the world. My chest and neck felt like some immense, invisible force pressing against me. My hands tingled. I couldn’t speak. And I kept trying and trying to make myself move, but to no avail. I think my breathing grew faster. I think I began to panic. I felt like I began to sweat. And all the while, it felt like someone…or maybe something was in the room with me.

Reality came crashing back, and I was up, awake and moving and alone in my room.

A couple of years later, I found out what sleep paralysis is: a phenomenon that finds your mind and body in a kind of transitional phase between sleep and waking characterized by an inability to move or react. Often, hallucinations and paranoia accompany it. Also, it’s fucking terrifying.

What a great and fascinating topic to make a documentary film about. Following up his excellent 2013 documentary Room 237, a film about many of the (often schizo) theories that fans have about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Rodney Ascher’s The Nightmare takes the sleep paralysis experiences of eight different individuals and reenacts their stories in eerie and terrifying detail. Shadowmen and cats with red eyes. Forces beyond our control or understanding. Astral projection. Demonic howling. Aliens. A walking nightmare slowly climbing onto your bed.

Each interviewee provides their own recollections, explorations, interpretations, and theses regarding the effects of their collective sleep paralysis, focusing on culture, religion, science and so forth. Each individual comes from a different place, a different background, and has a different story to tell, but within this nightmare imagery, common threads are uncovered and an almost universal nature to the phenomenon is revealed that binds us all together as people. But there is no explanation. There is never meant to be.

Much like in Room 237, Ascher refrains from going with any kind of traditional documentary format or narrative with The Nightmare, instead mainly relying on his subjects’ accounts and emotions to move his film forward. The focus isn’t so much about what sleep paralysis is or what it means, but about its impact on real people and the toll it takes on their lives.

And then there are those reenactments, as scary and horrible as anything you would see in any horror movie. Well shot and well acted, any one of these stories could serve as the inspiration for a fictional fright tale. The shadowmen are there to invade your dreams and nightmares, to creep into the room with you when there’s nothing you can do to stop them. Maybe these figures, or demons, or aliens aren’t real. Maybe they’re all in your mind. Maybe they’re simply fragments of your dreaming psyche and nothing more…but the terror is real enough.

I experienced sleep paralysis only once more when I was a sophomore in college, this time in my apartment, but also in the middle of the day during a nap between class and work. It was very much the same as the first time, but the panic due to my immobility was far worse. I finally woke up sweaty and tense, and I was actually happy to get out of that apartment and go to work.

That was the last time, and honestly, thank God for that.

Watch the trailer for the film below.


Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit

One Response to Thank God for VOD! – The Nightmare
  1. Shawn C Baker

    Shawn C Baker Reply

    I’ve been wanting to see this since reading about it a few months back – maybe not even that long – on Bloodydisgusting. Tell you what, I’ve never had the paralysis experience but I’ve had some other transitional experiences between the worlds of waking and sleeping, and they are Weird.
    The Shadowmen thing is interesting. I first heard of that researching the novel I’ve been perpetually working on for three+ years now, as it involves shadows. There’s a wealth of information online, and all of it is fascinating.

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