Tuesday, August 11, 2015

MIFF Session #10: THE NIGHTMARE: No credit refused

A disparate group of people ranging from twenties to forties in America and the UK describe their experiences with sleep paralysis. The accounts vary from a very simple but clearly haunting child's encounter with a tv news broadcast that didn't behave as it should to seeing aliens made of static peering over the narrator's crib. The format starts with to camera one-on-ones and, when necessary, branches out into effective cinematic realisations using an array of now familiar but still potent audio visual cues.

We follow the chain of accounts from the first experiences with these terrors through to their victims' discovery of the documented phenomenon of sleep paralysis and delve further into the nature of the condition and in some cases it's even more fearsome developments. The cast of interviewees is appealing and the sense of cinema extends to the notion of cultural feedback from horror cinema which, while diverting, is not investigated. Some fourth-wall breakage here and there adds stylistic texture and an arc of sorts is established. This is never less than enjoyable and engaging to watch and doesn't outstay its welcome at a tidy ninety minutes.

But there's a problem which starts early and doesn't go away. I and the documentarians have no problem believing that the accounts of the sufferers are accurate reports of their perceptions in this state. However, there are signs quite early on that we are not going to get any commentary from science or the medical profession as to the nature of the condition which would expand the account and render it even more fascinating.

Instead, we are given frequent testimony that the sufferers have gone to medicine only to be dismissed. Their own dismissal of science and the breadth of that dismissal across the cast lets the sense of investigation slowly and quietly collapse and soon enough the film itself assumes the ambience of ghost stories at a sleepover. When one of them mentions that one particularly powerful encounter with the monsters of his paralysis he was no longer an atheist. When another claims that she banished her demon by evoking Jesus' name the game is up. She goes on to attest that not only had she been scornful of the notion of marrying a Christian but that her time with the night terrors drove her into the arms of such an one.

After this, any further accounts start looking like actors' show reels for X-Files auditions. And is the notion that horror movie feedback is informing the accounts is the same thing that is giving this film its look and feel too obvious?

We end with a series of the sufferers refuting science with a babel of wishful thinking and it is like watching a group of mentally ill people swearing allegiance to their own delusions. Simply, this film can only be entertainment without the moderation of science and without taking its meds is left lost and pretty. As the banker in Bedlam cries by night: come all, come all, no credit refused.

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