I’m sure sleep paralysis is truly horrifying to the people who experience it. A documentary filled with cheesy re-enactments of it is not. Horror documentary is not a thing, at least it isn’t yet until someone makes a more effective one than The Nightmare.
Several subjects who have suffered sleep paralysis are profiled. Sleep paralysis is a condition in which you remain conscious but cannot move while you see spooky figures move in the shadow. If it sounds like Insidious, it is. The subjects even mention the fictional movies to which they relate later in the documentary.
The subjects’ testimony is suspect since we never see footage of them asleep experiencing the condition they describe. Listen, I’m sure it’s real. I’ve had all sorts of sleep problems in my life, more on the side of insomnia, but I’m open to the possibility of all sorts of permutations. This is quite a big leap though. What they describe could just as easily be a very lucid dream that felt like they were awake.
What is truly unforgivable though is the re-enactments of their descriptions. Re-enactment is always tricky in documentary, because this format is supposed to be fact based. As soon as you stage a production, you’re editorializing. I saw another documentary at Sundance, Chuck Norris Vs. Communism, that handled re-enactments well. They were objective portrayals of piracy operations in communist Romania where there was no footage available, and it worked.
The issue with The Nightmare isn’t even editorializing. It’s simply bad filmmaking. The re-enactments staged are so amateurish, you would do better to just have the subjects perform the re-enactments themselves. I don’t even want to compare them to high school AV club or YouTube videos because there are some imaginative people working on YouTube or in high school.
In those re-enactments, the jump scares just look silly, but they worked on the midnight audience at Sundance. For me, once I checked out, it became a chore to listen to further stories and see more re-enactments. Watching re-enactments and hearing stories isn’t the same as experiencing them. I believe people have traumatic sleep disorders, but I don’t believe there are real shadow people stalking them. Maybe just take an Ambien.