Rodney Ascher’s latest film, The Nightmare, continues his cinematic exploration of the eerie. It is an exploration of the effects of sleep paralysis on eight ostensibly disparate people across the world and the uncanny similarities between them.

As with Room 237 and his short film The S from Hell the visual and audible potency of the narrative is very striking, with the terrifying tales of sleep paralysis coming to life as if in a horror movie.

We spoke with Ascher about the process of making the film, re-creating the nightmares and the inspirations behind the haunting soundtrack to the film.

HeyUGuys: How did the process of visualising the nightmares cinematically come about?

Rodney Ascher: Working with Concept Artist Louisa Van Leer and production Designers Ben Spiegleman and Evan Ross Murphy, the idea we all got most excited about was working in a studio environment. I was especially struck by the way films like Dogville, Our Town, and Double Suicide would use the stage (sometimes quite minimally, others very expressively) as sort of a self-contained universe.

What was about these specific people that made you want to tell their stories?

They each represented a recurring experience or point of view and a subset of experience we found again and again while researching the topic. These folks in particular were some of the more candid, articulate and dramatic examples we found.

Did you ever think to film any of the people while they were asleep? Or would you consider that intrusive?

I did, and we went so far as to research the best way to do it (and settled on baby monitors that record nightvision footage.) Ultimately we decided that S.P happened too infrequently (and some of these folks are over it completely) for us to realistically hope to record an episode of each person. However, Chris C still goes through it a lot and he enlisted his girlfriend to shoot him mid-episode and a little bit of that footage is in the film as he compares the feeling of waking up from S.P. to the ‘shakey faces’ scenes in Jacob’s Ladder and Insidious.

The Nightmare

I liked that each story, where it started and where they ended up (finding God or learning to cope), was presented at face value. Have you encountered much incredulity from audiences?

Not a lot – but sure, there’s been some. But for me it was important to be as authentic to each person’s experience as I could and I don’t mind if some audience members are skeptical of any of the storytellers because their own beliefs are different from theirs. I think it’s an open question how belief intersects with perception and it’s relevant to both the interviewees and the audience.

Again as with The S from Hell the sound design is pitched perfectly to complement the visual story being told, would you mind talking about your influences there and the process behind it?

Thanks for remembering The S From Hell! I’d say the idea of the sound design in both is to try and get into the heads of the people telling the stories, sometimes they feel about things the same way the audience does, other times less so – and when the latter is the case I like the incongruity.

The sounds themselves of both The S From Hell and The Nightmare draw inspiration from 70s synthesizer soundtrack music, especially for films like Sorcerer or Suspiria and television shows like Dr Who or the Electric Company. It may be a personal thing for me but I remember the way that stuff hit me in the guts as a kid, almost as if a machine was trying to control my mind.

I was lucky to work with Jonathan Snipes and company on the Nightmare who’s obviously a brilliant musician (and whose studio is a museum of obsolete electronics) but also picked up the reins of sound design on this one, creating the sound effects (many from field recordings including, really, Dolphin Brainwaves recorded by Christopher Fleegler) and supervision the mix.

A video of Snipes and William Hutson recording the score to Room 237.

Lastly, can you tell us what your current focus is, or what you’re hoping to explore next?

I’m not on one thing in particular that I’m ready to announce but I hope to continue working in the margins between fiction and non-fiction, and injecting highly personal stories into unexpected places,

The Nightmare is out in UK Cinemas today.