A Nightmare Wakes, 2021.
Directed by Nora Unkel. Starring Alix Wilton Regan, Giullian Yao Gioiello, Philippe Bowgen, Claire Glassford, Lee Garrett, and Shannon Spangler.
A Nightmare Wakes combines horror with historical drama, intermingling the Frankenstein story with a dramatisation of the lives and relationship of Mary (Alix Wilton Regan) and Percy Shelley (Guillian Yao Gioiello).
As Mary faces personal struggles and her love affair with Percy becomes increasingly tumultuous, she becomes obsessed with writing the novel. Her inner demons and obsession with her work become overwhelming to the point that the story begins to come to her in both dreams and waking nightmares.
The story of Frankenstein is so ingrained in popular culture it seems impossible to bring anything new to it. Nora Unkel has, however, achieved this by bringing Frankenstein and his monster into the ‘real world’. The film doesn’t just play out the Frankenstein narrative, it looks at the tale’s origins, theorising that the traumas experienced by Mary Shelley are what really brought the monster to life.
Admittedly, the film takes some pretty big liberties in terms of historical accuracy. Gioiello’s Percy is remarkably unsupportive of Mary’s writing, and she accuses him of feeling insecure and threatened by her potential success. Turning Percy into an oppressive character serves the film well by making Mary even more sympathetic, but the real Percy Shelley was known to be very supportive of her writing.
It becomes clear that A Nightmare Wakes is not really concerned with historical accuracy. As the narrative progresses the film shifts away from historical drama towards psychological horror, and entwines the Frankenstein tale with the Shelleys lives even more. Unfortunately, the film never seems certain whether it wants to be more cerebral or scary, and as a result doesn’t provide enough of either.
The real problem with the film is the lack of personality in the majority of the characters. It is easy to feel sorry for Mary purely because of the awful experiences she endures, but she ultimately has no strength of character. Regan’s performance shines in Mary’s most disturbed moments, but falls flat when it comes to portraying a complex person that the audience can identify with. Likewise, Gioiello’s Percy is not at all easy to empathise with. This is mostly down to the script, as most of the time he is just a completely selfish person. Philippe Bowgen is an excellent Lord Byron, though. In his brief screen time he swaggers about, usually half-undressed, and provides enough charisma to almost make up for the other flat performances.
A Nightmare Wakes is an interesting take on the Frankenstein tale and the story of its creation. However, the concept isn’t enough to make up for flat characters and a lack of the horror that was promised.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Lauren Miles is a freelance film and television journalist who loves all things gothic, fantasy and film noir. She has an MA in Multimedia Journalism and is also a Halloween enthusiast and cat lady. You can find her on Twitter @Lauren_M1les.