Creating a Sleep Paralysis Demon
Last updated: April 2023
Evil (2019) is a television show that depicts many psychological and medical incidents in supernatural ways. Produced by CBS Studios and King Size Productions, the show includes depictions of sleep paralysis that I found to be similar to my own experiences with the symptom.
People with narcolepsy commonly experience sleep paralysis. Narcolepsy and its symptoms have only had the opportunity to grace a small number of films and shows in media. Imagine my excitement when I came across this show! Evil utilizes a variety of cinematic tools to successfully convey just how disturbing sleep paralysis can be.
Connecting with a character's experience of a sleep paralysis demon
When Dr. Kristen Bouchard (played by Katja Herbers) meets her sleep demon for the first time, she is paralyzed in her bed. The show depicts her as lying face up and watching her demon across the room with mounting horror. With the use of delicate blue lighting, a makeup-free face, and trace amounts of clothing present, the sense of Kristen’s vulnerability to this menace grows exponentially.
I’ve been in her situation too many times, and I felt a profound connection with her experience. The emotions of dread and confusion on her face were difficult to watch due to the accuracy of their context. People with narcolepsy often experience these symptoms on a nightly basis.
Striking when we feel most vulnerable
Sleep paralysis is a monster that attacks only when a person is at their most vulnerable – groggy and unsure of their surroundings. These attributes contribute to the intensity of the experience. I found that the raw horror of sleep paralysis was beautifully captured in these moments.
Normal environments morph into something scary
This show was also accurate in depicting the level of interaction with the environment that sleep paralysis and its hallucinations involve. Kristen’s demon emerges from behind a seemingly innocent lamp. Guttural growls fill the room as Kristen’s eyes widen in fear. The glow from the demon’s skin is mirrored in the lamp post, effectively serving as camouflage.
I couldn’t help but feel that I was watching a carnivorous species stalking its prey on a nature documentary. At first, you could only identify the intruder by its movement. Watching your normal environment morph into something terrifying is quite shocking.
Narcolepsy hallucinations make it hard to know what is real or not
I’ve found that hallucinations involving real objects are often the most disturbing. Nightmares tend to take place in unrecognizable locations or variations of real places. Sleep paralysis hallucinations, on the other hand, twist objects from your actual surroundings into monsters. This makes it even more difficult to know the difference between what is real and what is not.
Reality becomes blurred for the person experiencing the hallucinations. Kristen also visibly struggles with determining reality from her hallucinations. The next time she wakes, she becomes frozen with fear to see that there is actually a puddle where she watched her demon urinate in her room the night before.
Her face softens with relief when she realizes that it was simply a rain puddle from an open window. However, the audience can tell that she still has doubts as to whether what she experienced was real or not. I found that Kristen’s struggle to grasp reality was similar to my own sleep paralysis experiences.
How it feels to see a sleep paralysis demon accurately depicted
This was the first show that I have found to include sensory hallucinations in its depiction of sleep paralysis. Kristen is horrified to be touched inappropriately by her demon the first time that they meet. Subsequent visits depict other variations of torture. Throughout these experiences, Kristen is fully aware of what is going on and is unable to defend herself due to her paralysis and inability to wake.
These symptoms of sleep paralysis are taboo and quite traumatizing. I’ve found that they are not frequently discussed by people with narcolepsy for a variety of reasons. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of having to deal with sleep paralysis from a young age. Being able to see my experiences depicted accurately in media has been both painful and healing for me.
Thank you to the writers for obviously taking the time to research these experiences before attempting to depict them. Your show is all the better for it!
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