For some people, getting into bed at night is one of the most frightening things they'll do all day. Individuals who deal with sleep paralysis - which is the temporary inability to move or speak while falling asleep or waking up - risk encountering a host of terrifying creatures and images as soon as their head touches the pillow, and for an unlucky few this happens to be a nightly occurrence.
The documentary The Nightmare explores exactly how a disparate group of individuals is affected by what they see playing out in front of them at night, and attempts to define what sleep paralysis truly is.
The following facts about The Nightmare documentary definitely contain some spoilers, so consider yourself warned. And if you're brave enough to actually watch the documentary after reading this, you should keep in mind that it’s more like a horror movie than something Ken Burns would make. The film has everything from jump scares to demons who haunt the corners of the frame, so don't be surprised if you end up with your own personal collection of night terrors haunting your dreams.
The Nightmare weaves together the stories of eight individuals into a single narrative that aims to describe just what it is like to experience the hyper-realistic night terrors that often come along with sleep paralysis.
The film documents people from across the world (who have never met one another) who have all experienced eerily similar visions when falling asleep and waking up, including seeing evil black cats with red eyes lurking near them and creatures that stand over them while they lie awake, unable to move.
The people whose stories are documented in The Nightmare don't know each other, and one woman even goes so far as to say that she doesn't want to hear anyone else's sleep paralysis stories because she's been living with one for her entire life and it's too traumatic. As each person describes what they typically see, it becomes apparent that they are all experiencing different versions of the same thing. They all recount seeing a shadow person, or a group of shadow people - some have hats, some have big eyes, but they're all unidentifiable and threatening figures who watch them sleep.
On top of seeing the shadow figures, each person describes the feeling of an electrical current going through their head just before they wake up trapped in a dream in which they can't move. No one knows how all these experiences are connected, and the film even discusses how researchers still can't figure out what's happening in the brains of people who have sleep paralysis.
When creating a film about nightmares, how do you actually go about illustrating the horrible things that people are seeing while they sleep? This documentary goes beyond the standard re-creation model that you've seen on many paranormal shows and makes each dream into its own mini horror film.
Sure, there are some very effective jump scares, but rather than rely on those The Nightmare tends to utilize a technique where either something truly creepy is revealed in a long shot, or the camera pans through a room to suddenly reveal a shadowy thing that really shouldn't be there. As the film progresses, the audience is forced to lie in wait while these dark figures approach the camera, similar to what the people in the doc actually describe experiencing.
A few of the stories in The Nightmare describe a creature lurking outside a person's house or apartment and trying to get inside once sleep paralysis sets in. In one instance a creature even calls a man on his phone from inside the dream to tell the man that it wants to come inside. This alone is scary enough, but then one woman goes on to describe how, at one point, a creature from her dream began targeting her unborn child.
She explains that one night, when her sleep paralysis first began to set in, she heard tapping on her window. As the paralysis continued, she noticed that a shadowy figure was standing just outside looking in on her. The thing then came into her home and tried to remove her unborn daughter from her uterus. Whatever the creature was, it never accomplished its task and her daughter was born without complications.