The Best and Worst of Sundance 2015 (Documentary Edition)

Still image from "The Nightmare"


The Nightmare

Director Rodney Ascher, creator of the witty and memorable Room 237, turns his skewed eye toward the increasingly common affliction of sleep paralysis, helming this story of eight people “and what waits for them in the darkness.” He combines stylized interviews with dramatizations and visualizations, deploying the tools of the horror trade — monsters, shadows, visual and aural jump scares — to create a cross between documentary and scary movie, often to great effect. As with his last film, much of the humor and humanity comes from Ascher leaving in what other movies might chop out, like an interview subject struggling to remember Christopher Walken’s name (“the one who was in that dancing video”), or a mouse closing a pop-up ad on a related YouTube video (for insomnia meds, of course). The film meanders a bit, seemingly unsure of its final destination, but it’s still a journey worth taking.

The Amina Profile

Director Sophie Deraspe begins her film with a highly eroticized pre-title sequence of cyber flirtation and full-frontal nudity, so it’s a bit of a surprise when it reveals itself as a documentary — but on reflection, that’s appropriate, since the film’s real subject is surface and reality. Weaving together interviews, archival footage, dramatization, and fantasy, Amina begins as a love story, morphs into a spy thriller, and then turns into a fascinating detective story. More than that I will not say; it’s best to go into this one blind to its secrets, and unsure of how the story’s many layers will peel off and fall to pieces.