Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Nightmare review

Rodney Ascher's follow up to the sleeper hit 'Room 237' is about to hit theaters soon! I watch it in order to find out if it's any good; is it? Hit the jump to find out.

The Nightmare demands a different ad campaign. Much like Guillermo Del Toro's Crimson Peak (which I will be reviewing shortly), there's opportunity to be had in the commercial sector, but for vastly different reasons. Del Toro's film was vastly mis-sold as a horror by the studio - who messed up the trailers. It was made to look cheap, unscary, and boring. With the Nightmare, the studio have avoided the sensationalist marketing the movie craves. Opting for the slogan 'Welcome to the scariest place on earth (:your bedroom)', they have captured the ideas and fear inside the film; and the trailers are superb - brimming with style and panache. But I think that perhaps they've missed a trick. A set of plain black posters with the logo at the bottom and some more effective slogans would be nice. These, ladies and gentlemen would be the following: 'The Scariest Movie Ever Made', 'The Only Real Horror Movie Ever Made', and crucially 'The Most Dangerous Movie Ever Made'. That's right folks: The Nightmare could fuck you over; The Nightmare could make you lose your job; The Nightmare could ruin your life; and, in one particularly chilling sentiment, The Nightmare could kill you.

Freddy Kreuger?
Never before has anyone made a movie that was actually dangerous. Don't mistake my statements for allusion to social danger: horror  movies have tried to traumatize us for years (with varying levels of success), and documentarians have always tried to change the world. On top of this, media outlets never shut up about 'copycat killings' and film-related murders. I think the closest anyone has ever come to making a dangerous movie was in an episode of South Park, when the so-called 'brown noise' was aired to the General Public. As you can probably guess, nobody shat themselves.... but there was the potential. Well, I think so at least. But The Nightmare is a different beast entirely: I don't think I can put it into perspective what this film means, it surely is a landmark achievement, and something to be talked about. A film that could, for all intents and purposes, ruin your very existence.

Rodney Ascher is responsible for one other full-length documentary - Room 237. A massive hit with the critics, Room 237 is a swooning and horrifying love letter to cinema. Comprised of footage from the Shining juxtaposed with bampot theories about what it all means, Ascher introduced us to the wondrous world of po-mo analysis and really just film in general. He returns to once again to a horror subject with The Nightmare, a double-barreled shotgun of a title blending bad dreams, and a seriously creepy painting (which forms the basis for part of the films analysis). Examining sleep paralysis, this isn't your usual documentary. Combining skew sufferer interviews with horrifyingly stylish nightmare fuel recreations, Ascher shuns scientific thought in favor of empirical data (an approach I'm particularly fond of) to create something unlike anything I've seen before. As in, ever.

Oh. Shit
After a rather stunning start, in which we fully realize Ascher's creative lens, the camera zooms straight into the action. The documentary is all about pure experience, and we get a selection of eight subjects to delve into. Each of them has a different story (although perhaps the real alarm is caused by the fact that each of their stories are weirdly similar). Separated by title cards, the film explores aspects of the condition that really beg exploring: How did it begin? What's it like? Can you feel it? Special cases. Surely this shows the expertise of the filmmaker. What will terrify us? Not scientific thought and data, that's for sure - the very thing that some reviews are complaining the film lacked could have absolutely destroyed it. What will terrify audiences are witness accounts of sleep paralysis and how it feels: how the subjects are feeling like they are going to die; how they see the shadow men coming to get them; how they feel immense pain; how they cant move. This is terrifying stuff. In fact, Rodney Ascher manages to terrify the living shit out of us with this, but there's one small issue: we're distanced from it. Oh, that's not for me, that's just for crazy people I said.

But then he throws a curve ball....

Much of the second half of the movie relies on focusing on how people first begin to experience the issue. And it's not good news either. The first time people properly hear about the condition is usually in direct correlation with the first time they have it. Yikes. The witness statements fit that, and their statements about friends whom have got it because of them fit that. In fact, as Ascher shows, the internet fits that as well. And what about all those old pictures, stories, and paintings (such as The Nightmare, which shares its title with this film). So stacks upon stacks of people have experienced this phenomenon. And now you know about it too. You know what it feels like, and what happens to you. Your brain is awake to the possibility. Oh shit. The Nightmare may have just screwed you big time.

As if this weren't enough, undoubtedly the biggest draw of Aschers film is the recreation sequences: bathed in a red/cyan neon haze reminiscent of 80s 3D, and sound tracked to a John Carpenter-esque Drivey synth beat. These scenes are truly the stuff of nightmares. In them, paralyzed children look on as anthropomorphic shadows unnaturally stalk into their rooms and creep closer. Terrified men look on as their bodies are violated by sharp claws. Petrified babies observe alien figures touching them in their cribs. And, in perhaps the movie's most terrifying scene, a red eyed demon screams the death of a thousand souls to an immobilized woman. Good luck sleeping. Apart from the stylistically incredible vibes these scenes give off, they are absolutely loaded with jump-scare moments - i'm talking every couple minutes (I watched the whole film from through my hands) - and are rife with tension. Make no mistake, a good 60% of this film is a pure genre effort, bending the rules of time and space to create some sort of messed-up Argento fantasy.

And on top of this, it's a complete mindfuck. All the interview scenes are shot from askew angles, in the dark, with the stipulation of encroaching menace, and often the camera will drift, to show we have been tricked. Maybe a doorway was a mirror, a corridor a painting, or a desk just an illusion. These scenes are genuinely unsettling and confusing. And even the nightmare sequences are joined together in such a way that we can tell they are staged. For instance, the camera zooms out to show a set. In one particularly beautiful scene, the camera drifts with a shadow man, as they move from set to set, scaring other protagonist. And then there's the weird humor that pervades throughout the entire film.... This movie really is an epic puzzle box.

Well, say goodbye to your sleep tonight
Of course, there is some deeper meaning to this other than the given experience record. The referencing of horror movies, and the shapes of shadow men, pose an interesting question about sleep paralysis, nightmares and dreams. Instead of the stipulation that nightmares are caused by horror movies, Ascher is trying to tell us that horror movies are caused by nightmares - have a think about that one, it may make life a little more frightening.

This is the real schrodingers cat (like, really). You're trapped in your bed with a ticking time bomb, your brain. There's a chance the slight electrical impulses will spur you into sleep paralysis, or not. So, what's the effect? I promise you, hand on heart, the night after watching this film was the scariest night of my life. I lay drenched in sweat, yet still under the covers. for hours on end. Every time I approached the moment of sleep, my mind drifed to sleep paralysis and I jolted awake again, sweating even more. The little details revealed by the interview subjects are so general that you will start seeing symptoms everywhere. I didn't experience sleep paralysis that night, but, hey, maybe you won't be so lucky.....

All in all, the nightmare is a colossal, terrifying, mindfuck labyrinth of a cinematic experience that will destroy your sleep for a few nights, and may wreck your life. It is the one true horror movie: the real Freddy Kruger. And it's the first actually dangerous film hat should come with a trigger warning. Prepare for the biggest thrill in horror history as you risk it all. There's only one question left: do you dare see the Nightmare?
The Nightmare gets 5 stars!

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