Just when it seems every imaginable iteration of Rosemary’s Baby has been birthed into our collective subconscious, along comes Norwegian import Nightmare to suggest yet another take. This time around, not only does Nightmare emulate that overrated timeless classic—it also has echoes of much-maligned sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic, and short story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” With these disparate elements, Nightmare cannot escape feeling like a lesser version. Are we still not done with this “distressed woman freaks out and no one believes her” subgenre? Nightmare introduces lucid dreaming, sleep paralysis, abortions, and more period blood than seems possible to be expelled from the human body, yet fails to do anything interesting or exciting narratively.
Mona (Eili Harboe) and Robby (Herman Tømmeraas) have just moved into a grand apartment of their dreams, albeit one that needs major renovations. They vow that as long as they do this together, they can weather any storm. Problems emerge almost immediately. The neighbor constantly picks fights with them. An eerie woman across the building won’t even wave back to Mona. Erotic recurring nightmares begin to plague Mona, characterized by an evil version of her hot nerdy boyfriend.
Nightmare begins with promise, especially considering the emphasis on sleep paralysis. What could be scarier than not being able to tell if one is awake or asleep, let alone unable to move when demonly figures rear their ugly heads? As it turns out, Nightmare only uses the sleep paralysis as a front to explore other topics on its mind. When Mona turns to a sleep expert for analysis on her dreams, that is when the film heads into Exorcist II territory. Nightmare lacks a cohesiveness in its visuals—why should we care about Mona when her story comes across so lackluster? Its attempt at abortion exploration fares no better.
Sleepwalking as a topic has already weirded me out, and any horror movie that delves into sleep disorders is usually worth watching at least once. Look no further than A Nightmare on Elm Street, Paranormal Activity, Insidious, or even 2020’s Come True for a proper dose of sleep-induced horrors. Nightmare attempts to be a mish-mash of too many things at once, and neglects its characters in the process. Mona comes across desperate and annoying, and Robby barely gets any characterization at all. An ending that will enrage a certain subset of people seems to be thrown in just for the sake of being dark and disturbing, rather than having any merit. Topped off with a dose of hokey effects work, Nightmare is one horror sleeper you will want to forget the second it concludes.
Try the escape the Nightmare when it unravels exclusively to Shudder and AMC+ subscribers on Friday, September 29th.