(The gist: I had to throw in a documentary to round out my Stanley Film Festival viewing. The Nightmare was interesting and well done but maybe not entertaining enough to invest a festival timeslot.)
Attending an indie film festival, I felt obliged to take in the documentary on the menu. I usually reserve documentaries for home viewing, as they rarely require the grandeur of theater viewing. And in all honesty, I generally opt to view a regular feature film over a documentary if given the choice. However, I was striving for an eclectic sampling at my first time at the Stanley Film Festival.
The Nightmare interviews eight individuals who have suffered with severe sleep paralysis. For these individuals, sleep paralysis consists of feeling like they have woken up and are unable to move; then, almost always, they feel or see a presence in the room. From that commonality, all of their experiences diverge. Yet, in all cases, the experiences of it sounded horrible.
I, personally, have never suffered an episode of sleep paralysis as those in the documentary described. I am, however, prone to nightmares, am capable of lucid dreaming, and lose sensation in my arms as I fall asleep. None of this is at all sleep paralysis, but these experiences of mine allowed me to deeply empathize with the interviewees. I could imagine what it would be like to end up in that next awful step.
The documentary is well composed, based on my limited exposure to and expertise in documentaries. I found it struck a good balance of showing the interviews and providing reenactments. Through the balance, I was able to get a good sense of the people through their stories and mannerisms as they spoke, and I was also able to visualize what they were describing with the reenactment sequences.
I also found it interesting that symptoms of sleep paralysis appeared cross culturally for centuries. And I appreciated the examination of the horror movies this condition has inspired.
The documentary ultimately ends up posing the question of if the experience of sleep paralysis suggests more in life, as in an alien encounter or religious experience. Each participant had a unique interpretation of their shared symptoms, but it did seem like the directory leans the film a certain direction. Not in that he skewed the interviews but more in that it was transparent how he interpreted his data.
I found The Nightmare interesting, and above all, I truly felt sympathy and empathy for the people included in it, which suggests a well done documentary to me. If I had it to do over again, I may not have watched the film at a festival but rather saved it for my couch at home, but in either case, I would have watched it.