Time Out says
This documentary about the terrifying condition known as sleep paralysis could have done with a bit more cold, hard science
Sleep paralysis is more than just another form of nocturnal terror: sufferers wake to find themselves in a deep state of dread, unable to move, hallucinating demonic figures standing over them. It’s been a recognised part of human experience for centuries, evident in artworks like the eighteenth-century painting ‘The Nightmare’ by Fuseli, of a horned creature squatting on a sleeping woman’s chest. But sleep scientists are only just beginning to understand the condition: how many people it affects, how long it can last and what a devastating impact it can have on mental health.
'Room 237' director Rodney Ascher’s documentary largely eschews hard science to focus on the emotional and psychological toll. He interviews eight sufferers – seven Americans and a Mancunian – whose lives have been upended by repeated bouts of nocturnal panic and vivid, inescapable hallucinations. Their attitudes to their affliction range from the practical to the mystical: some believing it’s just a question of misfiring neurons, others blaming God, the Devil or abducting aliens.
But Ascher’s aim isn’t simply to inform. ‘The Nightmare’ wants to be the first properly scary documentary, employing time-honoured horror movie techniques in a concerted effort to spook the viewer. But it’s here that Ascher slightly oversteps himself. While there is a well-maintained sense of lurking discomfort, the gotcha scenes feel a little cheap, the black-masked figures with their red glowing eyes resembling something from a kids Halloween special. There’s one unforgettable sequence, as the camera drifts and snakes through the recreated dreams of multiple sleeping figures. But in the end, a straight doc might have been more rewarding