The True Horror of ‘The Nightmare (2015)’ and Sleep Paralysis

Horror in the form of art, stories, and movies is all fun and games until it becomes someone’s reality; someone’s nightmare. What would you do if your worst fear came into your home… into your bedroom even, whenever it wanted to and paralyzed you with a presence, unlike anything you’d ever felt? Unfortunately, this phenomenon is something thousands of people have experienced all over the world, and it’s called sleep paralysis.

The Nightmare is a horror documentary that had its world premiere on January 26, 2015 at the Sundance Film Festival. Since then, it has been released via DVD, Blu-Ray, and VOD. The film is produced by Ross M. Dinerstein and Glenn Zipper with a score by Jonathan Snipes that helps provide the creepy tone to go along with a most uncomfortable subject matter. The director is Rodney Ascher, who is known for his in-depth documentaries, especially the widely popular Room 237 that explored various interpretations of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. This time, Ascher digs deep into the different ideas behind sleep paralysis and what each victim of the syndrome goes through. He says he chose to do this documentary because of his own experiences with sleep paralysis that began nearly 15 years ago. After experiencing this horrible and frightening condition, he had assumed that it had to be some sort of supernatural experience. After further research, he found that many others had gone through the same thing, revealing a far bigger story than he imagined.

His newest documentary is about what people go through during an attack of sleep paralysis, the different levels of the experience, and variations from one sufferer to another. Ascher interviews eight people who divulge their sleep paralysis experiences, along with the nightmares that still plague them. He then recreates their experiences using actors Siegfried Peters, Nicole Bosworth, Stephen Michael Joseph, Yatoya Toy, Age Wilson, Elise Robson, and Estrella Cristina. A terrifying thing to sit through, but a must watch. But what exactly is sleep paralysis?

thenightmare2

Let’s break down the basics of the syndrome and some interpretations using the five W’s:

Where did it originate? Sleep paralysis has been documented for over 300 years in different cultures all over the world. Early depictions through artwork show demons sitting on one’s chest as a way to represent sleep paralysis, which will be discussed later on in the review. In this documentary, the people interviewed discussed their experiences happening at a variety of different ages and, of course, they all came from different backgrounds.

When does it happen? According to WebMD, sleep paralysis usually only occurs during two possible times. The first possibility happens when you are falling asleep, which is called hypnagogic. The second happens when you are waking up and is called hypnopompic. In this documentary, all of the participants have had both hypnagogic and hypnopompic experiences. In both situations, your body is remotely turned off and relaxed, but your mind is aware and the panic sets in as soon as you realize that you can’t move or speak.

Who does it happen to? In an article with Vice.com about the film, sleep paralysis affects about 6% of the general population and most sufferers are left wondering what happened to them with no explanations beyond their own research and theories. It often begins in their teenage years and then increases between their 20’s and 30’s. Surprisingly, sleep paralysis is not considered a severe medical issue. However, the people in this documentary would disagree, often starting out in the younger years and pop back up in the same form decades later, haunting them again like it never left.

What is it? “Sleep paralysis is the feeling of being awake, but unable to move – sending instant panic thoughts to the person.  Most of the time it occurs when a person passes through stages of waking up and falling asleep. During these stages, the person with this condition often can’t move or speak for a few seconds up to a few minutes.  Some people may also feel pressure or a sense of choking. Sleep paralysis may accompany other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy.” (WebMD.)  Although this is the scientific definition, many others believe sleep paralysis can’t simply be summed up in so many words. It also doesn’t explain the similar situations among different people and all the bizarre things that have happened that people still vividly remember. People in the documentary discuss sleep paralysis as a humanoid creature. Many have experienced different forms of it, but the most common way to describe it is as a three-dimensional shadow man, a demon, or an alien of some kind. It makes you wonder if these experiences are more involved than the simple scientific definition describes. It is terrifying to think about these shadow figures lurking in the dark, waiting for us to fall asleep.

Why does it happen? There’s always an answer to everything, but it doesn’t necessarily explain why something is happening. Some people wonder if they are being punished, others think they are being connected with a deceased love one, some think the creature is eating and feeding on their fears, and still others believe it takes them into other dimensions. One woman in the documentary confessed that her personal life was horrible and when she went into sleep paralysis, she went into another dimension to heal and experience a different reality so she could have the strength to face her life. Many of their confessions have me wondering if these people are being haunted by subconscious fears or secrets buried so deeply that they have forgotten they are there?

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The Nightmare (1781) by Henry Fuseli.

But this experience is far more than not getting enough sleep. It is the feeling of not being able to move, seeing shadows, and a nightmare that seems to never end. The people who have to endure it fear going to sleep, what will happen, and fear the unknown. Night hag is what it often goes by, an evil creature that visits people at night, sitting on their chest – immobilizing them. “The Nightmare” is a 1781 oil painting by Anglo-Swiss artist Henry Fuseli and is one of the most known paintings to portray the evil creature and what is to be known as sleep paralysis. They feel a deep sense of terror in the room, surrounding them, paralyzing them to the point where the brain is in a hyper-vigilant state and they become more vulnerable to the attacks. In this state the visions become even stronger, making it hard to grasp reality. Often when the brain is like this it’s a protective mechanism to give us time to determine when a situation is dangerous or not, but because of the situation everything is heightened and people automatically assume it must be an evil presence.

Sleep paralysis diagnosis is often ruled out by other sleep conditions that could be causing the paralysis. Therefore, doctors spend time determining which one it is and the right medication for it to help cure the problem. To prevent this from happening to you they recommend the proper amount of sleep, to keep a normal sleep schedule, to watch your use of stimulants, and so on. But what if it is a far deeper issue than a sleep condition? Not everything can be summoned up with the common sleep disorders.

Sleep paralysis is a real thing no matter what you think the diagnosis or definition of it is, and one to would be wise to become familiar with the condition as you never know when it could happen to someone you know or even to you. Do your own research on this condition that affects so many people and watch The Nightmare. It was terrifically made and as each experience is being told, the viewer almost becomes paralyzed with fear just knowing that something like this exists. It’s out there and it could happen to them next. As you are watching, you become suffocated with your own terrors just thinking that one day you could fall asleep and this could be your reality. A dark, shadowy figure could be lurking near your bed, hovering over you but leaving you unable to move or scream. One thing is for sure – sleep paralysis is truly what nightmares are made of!

About Tori Danielle

Tori has had a passion for Horror and music ever since she was a little girl. She got bit by the writing bug in high school where she was involved in both the school newspaper and the yearbook. While getting her Bachelors degree, she took Journalism and Creative Writing classes where her passion grew even stronger. Now, in between work and family, she spends all of her spare time indulging in music, Horror movies, and nerdy fandoms, all while running/assisting one of the biggest Horror groups on Facebook and writing for various websites.

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3 comments

  1. great, lol.

  2. Tori, this a great article girl. hope you don’t mind me sharing on my new horror articles page. great work.

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