SFF ’15 REVIEW: The Nightmare (Rodney Ascher)

by Jason Suzuki

If you are a fan, or just find it refreshing, of documentaries that wear artifice on their sleeves there are small details that should be of interest to you in The Nightmare, Ascher’s follow up to his doc Room 237 and his short in the ABCs of Death 2 (Q is for Questionnaire, definitely in my top ten from the film). While the film doesn’t reach Brechtian levels of reminding you of its constructedness, its hybrid style is very effective switching between interviews of 8 people (9 if you include Ascher) who experience and at times suffer from sleep paralysis and the recreations of what they describe to see or experience in these moments.

Ascher splits the film up into sections, this allows him to highlight the similarities between people’s experiences and how they deal with them but also to begin addressing bigger questions. In the post-film Q&A Ascher explained that the use of these meta elements in which we are reminded the reenactments are just hypothetical recreations shot on a sound stage or when we see the cameras/lighting equipment during an interview are there to maintain documentary authenticity by highlighting what is constructed but also going with the theme of how do we distinguish between reality and not. To take it further, these reenactments are creations, not just for the film but creations of our own minds, it would seem to challenge the interviewees who have found metaphysical/religious explanations for what happens to them at night. But Ascher is too respectful to his subjects to do anything so knowingly petty.

Like this year’s An Honest Liar, the film that through its exploration of its subject sees an opportunity to expose artifice, and question its own seeming objectivity. It’s a higher use of the form, one that in a way truthfully relates subjectivity more so than any fiction-based unreliable narrator could.

Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.