Nightmare

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any streaming offers for Nightmare.

“Nightmare,” a drab horror film about a horrifying and real event, is not the best fictional riff for sleep paralysis demons. Instigated by Rodney Ascher’s 2015 collection of true-life bedtime stories, “The Nightmare,” one of the most terrifying documentaries ever created, sleep paralysis can spread even just by learning about it. But despite the potential to depict sleep paralysis, in which a person can imagine themselves dozing off while a spectral presence stalks the room—freaky, right?—“Nightmare” is a dull Shudder entry with just a seething rage to distinguish it.

As Mona, a 25-year-old who is abruptly struck by sleep paralysis and is angry toward both herself and others, Elli Harboe (“Thelma”) must put in extra effort. She stumbles through a script that assigns Mona mediocre troubles during the day, such as a relationship with a lousy lover, Robby (Herman Tmmeraas), who works a secret job and doesn’t assist with the necessary renovation for their recently acquired but dilapidated flat. When Mona tries to go asleep, she screams, occasionally yells at Robby, and even sleepwalks without any sense of reality. Despite the threat this unpredictable psychosis should provide, “Nightmare” grows stale, and Harboe’s intrinsic force can only do so much to jolt its weak nerves.

The right of a woman to undergo an abortion is the one compelling fire that is stoking below writer/director Kjersti Helen Rasmussen’s drama. She learns she is pregnant soon after Mona and Robby move in. Mona is aware that she wants to get an abortion since she isn’t ready to be a mother, but various male influences in her life are putting her freedom at risk. Even the initial doctor, who informed her of her pregnancy and suggested an abortion, made an effort to make her feel guilty by showing her mental pictures of the developing embryo. She also doesn’t want to inform Robby about it because she doesn’t want to face challenges at home.

The Mare, a shirtless Robby who looms as if he were a Cullen vampire sibling, is the cheesiest manifestation of a demon that starts stalking Mona at night. This devil wants her to have this child. If movies were only worth seeing for the fortitude of their convictions, then “Nightmare”—which is essentially about a woman’s choice—might be worth a look.

In terms of execution, Rasmussen’s plot is a collection of weak arcs, including the later participation of a zealous sleep specialist (Dennis Storhi) who knows more about Mona’s circumstances than he’s letting on regarding both her current residence and her conditions. If he describes a device that uses brain signals to display dreams to voyeurs, don’t get too excited—this fascinating piece of technology is hardly ever used. His goals are didactic terror, providing information (indeed, their film contains a lecture outlining dreams), and facing peril.

“Nightmare” performs its cliches as an exercise, but without emotion. The movie far too frequently features scenes where it’s unclear if Mona is dreaming or awake, and it does so without maintaining the tension of the overall story. “Nightmare” is one of those horror productions where the suspense doesn’t so much develop as it does persist, slowing down the pacing along the way. Additionally, when the story contains certain potentially frightening truths, such as details about neighbors who are suffering in different ways, they are not particularly significant.

Rasmussen’s first film as a director may have even worked as a haunted home movie given how much emphasis is placed on atmosphere; the sound mixing even amplifies fly buzzing to evoke the impression of something, somewhere, rotting. It is essentially consistent from beginning to end and is one of the few admirable artistic concepts. Even though it shoehorns screaming battles between Mona and her absent lover and wannabe parent Robby in later chapters, “Nightmare” lacks substance as a story about a damaged relationship, reflecting on how their relationship was in danger before the Mare emerged.

This is a slow-burning film looking for a traumatic image. But regardless of the effort made to make those dreams uncomfortable (another cheesy jump scare, yawn) or how this demon is presented, it just doesn’t have a high bar for horrors. The final two shots of Mona’s story, one of which could only result from the rage in its narration and would also never be approved by a conventional Hollywood producer, give the story its enduring image. Unfortunately, the journey there is such a bore.

Now running on Shudder.

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