Has this ever happened to you? Time comes to go to sleep, so you get into bed. Rather than nodding off like a normal person, you find yourself feeling tingles, static energy, or just nerves acting up. The feeling is followed by some sort of sound – thumping, whooshing, TV static. Next you feel as though you are awake, and yet you cannot move, your body seems to have stopped co-operating or you feel an unnatural heaviness. Finally, to complete the fear factor, you see a shadowy figure in your room…coming towards you where you lay, perhaps even wearing a hat or a cloak.

Any of that sound familiar? Guess what – it’s called Sleep Paralysis, and many people around the world have felt it.

Rodney Ascher is the director of THE NIGHTMARE, a new documentary that gathers sufferers of sleep paralysis from around the world and has them share their experiences. There are certain constants and a whole whack of variables, but one thing is for sure, what they are experiencing isn’t exactly “all in their head”. What happens when they close their eyes is deeply affecting, and casts a physical toll on their bodies and neuroses.

But discussing what these people are going through is only a warm-up act for THE NIGHTMARE.

The headlining performance is when Ascher takes his filmmaking talents and puts them to use by bringing these nightmares described to life. Eerie sound mix? Check. High tension? Check. Terrifying non-distinct shadowy figures? Double check. By doing so, THE NIGHTMARE transcends genre. It shakes off the shackles of documentary and drifts over into the realm of full-on horror. We listen as the people affected tell us what is going to happen, step by agonizing step. But even though they are there to hold our hands, we still walk away afraid. We know how hard our hearts would pound if we saw what we are seeing in our own bedrooms.

What’s worse, there’s always that fear that this condition is contagious, and that even if we don’t suffer from sleep paralysis, that we will suddenly start. It’s like trying to stifle a yawn after seeing someone else yawn…except in this case, the “yawn” is a terrifying boogeyman.

In what might be it’s most clever course of action, THE NIGHTMARE never attempts to research or explain the physical or psychological cause or treatment for sleep paralysis. It only wants to underline that it’s a real thing. It comes and goes, always waiting, apparently transmittable, and prone to even intensifying as time goes by. While some people have found methods to get out of harm’s way, THE NIGHTMARE suggests that there is no silver bullet. This fear will come and go as it pleases, and if you can’t imagine what it must be like to experience it, this filmmaker has found a way to give you a taste.

Pleasant dreams.


THE NIGHTMARE plays at Hot Docs 2015 Saturday May 2nd – 9:15pm at The Revue, and finally at The Lightbox on Sunday May 3rd – 9:30pm.