Review by Cole Groth
Sleep paralysis demons are a great topic to be covered by horror, but Kjersti Helen Rasmussen’s Nightmare squabbles that topic in a film that’s neither interesting nor scary. It’s a dull mess of a movie that won’t stand a chance against the endless pool of scary films in Shudder’s library.
Mona (Elli Harboe) is a 25-year-old woman who becomes afflicted with sleep paralysis that threatens to take over her life. While her illness progresses, she becomes increasingly violent to herself and others. Her sleep paralysis demons force her to walk the line between reality and fiction, driving her deeper into insanity as the film progresses. As the nightmarish manifestations of her condition become more vivid and terrifying, Mona's grip on reality slips further, blurring the boundaries between her inner demons and the waking world.
This is a fundamentally frustrating movie. The genre of films about people (mostly women) going insane is an entirely bloated group. These movies suck because they all play out the exact same. Scary stuff happens, then nobody believes said scary stuff is happening. It’s an endless cycle that’s incredibly frustrating, and Nightmare doesn’t escape the annoyances of that. The audience is actively lied to at many points, so whenever an important plot point happens, it’s easy to write off the moment as not happening. It’s more satisfying to read a plot synopsis than it is to watch the movie.
As far as performances go, this film isn’t great. As an American who doesn’t speak any Norwegian, it’s hard to tell if the performances are that good or not, but there weren’t any moments that were too unbelievable from an acting standpoint. Elli Harboe is good at acting terrified. On the other hand, her boyfriend, played by Herman Tømmeraas, is unbelievably dull. His performance matches the dullness of his character. A few of the supporting actors are forgettable, too. Like the movie, an impression won’t be left by the acting.
The only point where this film manages to be interesting is its discussion of the issue of abortion. After Mona moves in with her boyfriend, she realizes that she’s pregnant. The baby slowly growing inside of her can be seen as a manifestation of the sleep paralysis demons, which is an interesting alley to go down. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t explore it further. It all leads to an ending that’s shocking, yet a brazenly stupid answer to questions brought up by the abortion problem.
Nightmare falls far short of its potential in exploring the intriguing concept of sleep paralysis demons. While it attempts to blur the lines between reality and horror, the film ultimately descends into a monotonous and frustrating cycle that fails to distinguish itself in a saturated genre. Though Elli Harboe's portrayal of fear manages to stay within the realm of credibility, she’s overshadowed by an annoying plot. Simply put, Nightmare is a nightmare to view.
Nightmare is now streaming on Shudder.