“A look at a frightening condition that plagues thousands; sleep paralysis.” — IMDb
As someone who has read about and been simultaneously fascinated and terrified by the idea of sleep paralysis, this was both a fun and deeply disturbing watch. Director Rodney Ascher — in his second documentary following Room 237, an exploration of The Shining — interviewed 8 people who all had some level of experience with sleep paralysis. The documentary alternates between the very stripped down and honest interviews themselves — they very intentionally used off-kilter camera angles, played with shadows, and took advantage of techniques like filming a person from the next room over to really add to the sense of isolation — and some of the peoples’ stories or specific memories acted out by professional actors and with special effects.
I thought it was a really cool blend of traditional documentary and horror movie. They opted not to include any input from doctors or psychologists on the matter, which I thought actually added to the film more than anything a sense of compassion, of mutual understanding, of just stark storytelling and brilliantly done segments of recreating their visions. There’s no one there offering their ideas of why it happens, their research, their debunking, their charts or graphs… it’s just the people, alone, recounting their memories and their fear.
“All the darkness looks alive.”
The thing that struck me the most was how similar everyone’s stories were. Sleep paralysis is not just the loss of your ability to move or speak — which would be awful enough on its own — but it is often accompanied by hallucinations, or “visitations”. The fact that these people all described very similar details — all of them have regular encounters with these “Shadow People”, and several specifically mentioned a man in a hat, a seeming leader of the group — makes you feel as though there’s something much more sinister at hand, but whether that is some kind of deep government conspiracy, alien visitations, demonic possession, or something else entirely is unclear. But the ability to speculate takes this documentary — and this topic in general — from something creepy to downright horrifying.
Honestly, I’d highly recommend this both to anyone interested in the topic of sleep paralysis and someone interested in a decent horror film. It provides enough scares and haunting imagery — in particular they did an amazing job at making the shadow people look even darker than a regular shadow, which one interviewee mentioned — to stand alone as a horror film, which makes me super curious to see Rodney Ascher try his hand at something besides documentaries (though I will happily keep watching those as long as he puts them out, too!).