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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 06.04.15] horror documentary

Before the internet was a readily available technology that made research and connecting to others an easy thing, if something weird happened, chances were that people would chalk it away to some unexplained thing rather than try to get to the bottom of what it was and why it happened. If that strange thing happened more than once, then it's likely one would make more of an effort of looking through hundreds of books and articles and meeting strangers who may or may not understand you to get answers... it was a daunting task.

It was during this pre-internet age that director Rodney Ascher first experience sleep paralysis. As with many other sufferers, the event traumatized Ascher but with time, the episode started to recede from memory. Repeat occurrences eventually led the director onto the internet where he discovered a community of sufferers, many of them dealing with the episodes by trying to find some meaning in them. Through extensive interviews and research, Ascher and his team found a few choice candidates to share their stories in The Nightmare.

A documentary that often plays like a horror movie, Ascher's follow up to Room 237 (review) is another entry into the unconventional documentary. Though it uses commonplace techniques often seen in documentary filmmaking, notably talking head interviews and re-enactments, Ascher and cinematographer Bridger Nielson (who also shot the indie horror The Pact (review)), take great care in the framing of their interview subjects, often filming them in shadow and often off center which, as the movie progresses, becomes unnerving with the possibility that something could creep out of the shadow at any moment. Ascher also opts to shoot the interviews, whenever possible, in the homes where the events unfolded. The setting seems to have an eerie effect on the interview subjects which translates through the lens.

The re-enactments too are unnerving and Ascher doesn't shy away from using horror movie making conventions to great affect. Along with editor Saul Herckis and composer Jonathan Snipes, Ascher builds terror and tension as carefully as any narrative movie and the result is a documentary that not only delves into a misunderstood subject but which is also creepy.

With just a pair of documentaries, Ascher has cemented himself as a documentary filmmaker with a unique voice and approach. Though The Nightmare doesn't provide any answers, it gives its subjects plenty of opportunity, which they take, to share their stories and their theories, giving viewers an intimate and occasionally genuinely scary often scary look at sleep paralysis.

The Nightmare opens in NY and LA on June 5 and expands to other markets June 12.

Recommended Release: Room 237

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