“Last night I dreamt…” is often the first sentence many of us hear every morning. When you awake next to your other half, many have an inclination to profess their dreams to their loved ones, to explain, sometimes in great, absurd detail, what they were thinking about during their sleep. At the start of the relationship it can be fascinating to know what was going through their mind, a remarkable insight into their sub-conscious. After a few years, it becomes inane and boring – and this is how Rodney Ascher’s latest documentary The Nightmare plays out. While the terrifying tales from those suffering with sleep paralysis are initially haunting and intriguing, by the end of this feature, tedium kicks in and takes over.

Sleep paralysis is one of the most harrowing ordeals people have to go to – where you lie helpless, unable to move, unable to speak, while maleficent, sinister nightmares take place. A common one being that of shadow men approaching your bed, watching you as you sleep. You’re dreaming, of course, but it feels real, and worst of all, there’s little you can do to combat it, as this temporary inability to move leaves you motionless, waiting anxiously for it to end. Ascher – who is following up his preceding endeavour Room 237 – speaks to a series of people who suffer from this condition, to discuss how it affects them, and exactly what it is they dream about.

Ascher has cleverly presented this documentary about fear using devices of the horror genre to evoke a sense of anxiety and trepidation from the viewer, illustrating the recounting of the nightmares with imagery and reenactments, such as when one sufferer describes seeing a spider in their dream, only then for a spider to crawl across the screen (and cause quite a shriek from the audience), immersing us in this feature and putting us in the nightmare too, able to comprehend what these people are going through. It does become monotonous however, as a repetitive feature that is mostly one note throughout. It’s essentially somebody sat down, in a dark room, explaining their nightmares and visions they have. That’s it – and once you’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all, especially since they’re all so similar. Though fascinating to some extent, whether or not this subject matter has enough about it to sustain a feature length picture is questionable.

Perhaps a way around that is to change the pace and setting, to study our subjects away from the their darkly lit, empty rooms. Let’s see them at work, and meet their friends and relatives, learn more about them and how their condition affects their day to day lives. Or perhaps to garner the thoughts of some authoritative figures, the scientists, doctors and psychologists – let’s try and comprehend what these visions mean. Even though hearing the people themselves describe it, hearing statements such as ‘it’s a message from God’ or ‘I wanted to get into the fourth dimension’ don’t really take us anywhere. We want to know why they picture a man on a skateboard. What it is about their lifestyles that allows for them to suffer during the night? This what we want answered, not just a series of people talking about their ordeal.

Thankfully, any such tedium is counteracted by the inclination for horror, as we use real horror to generate fear amongst the audience. This isn’t your typical, fictitious narrative, but bonafide, real fear – which extends onto the viewer to make for a chilling experience. It’s just a bit of a dull one.