'The Nightmare' Documentary Is Scarier Than Most Horror Movies

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 Film Is A Collection Of Stories About Sleep Paralysis

    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.

  • All The Participants Describe Eerily Similar Visions

    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. 

  • The Film's Re-Creations Of The Nightmares Are Intense

    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. 

  • The Dreams Sometimes Include Creatures Trying To Get Into The Subject's Home

    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.

  • The Film Is Incredibly Voyeuristic

    Straight from the opening credit sequence that takes viewers through the set where dream re-creations are being filmed to the clapper board that's used in many of the interviews, The Nightmare consistently blends reality with fantasy, while being sure to remind the audience that they're watching other people at their most vulnerable moments. 

    Throughout the film, the audience is made to feel much like a voyeur who's watching as people describe their most private, intimate fears. Taking it one step further and actually watching those fears as they're acted out adds even greater depth to the surreal nature of this film. 

  • One Man Didn't Have Sleep Paralysis Until His Girlfriend Explained It To Him

    One of the strangest stories told in The Nightmare involves a man who had never dealt with sleep paralysis before he and his girlfriend moved into an apartment together. He explains how he witnessed his girlfriend go through sleep paralysis for quite a while, and that after she took the time to explain to him just what was happening to her, his own paralysis began to take over - in a big way. 

    It's unclear in the documentary whether they're suggesting that simply knowing about sleep paralysis can trigger its development in those who are more susceptible, or if this man's brain was just triggered by the sudden awareness of what his girlfriend was experiencing.