A Nightmare Wakes (2021) is a Beautiful Yet Lifeless Re-imagining of Important Literary History
Updated: Dec 26, 2021
Title: A Nightmare Wakes
First Wide Release: February 4, 2021 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Nora Unkel
Writer: Nora Unkel
Runtime: 90 Minutes
Starring: Alix Wilton Regan, Guillian Yao Gioeiello, Philippe Bowgen
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Mary Shelley (Alix Wilton Regan) is spending her summer lounging with Percy (Giullian Yao Gioiello) and her sister (Claire Glassford) while attending lavish parties thrown across the lake by the notorious Lord Byron (Philippe Bowgen). One night during a thunderstorm, the group decides to pass the time by challenging each other to tell the most frightening ghost stories. This night inspires Mary to write her science fiction/horror epic “Frankenstein”. Unfortunately for her, the story begins taking on a life of its own sending Mary down a perilous spiral of nightmares and panic.
A Nightmare Wakes tells an interesting story but can’t seem to raise much of anything from its dead script.
As an avid fan of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, I was ecstatic to hear that A Nightmare Wakes wanted to ttake liberties with the creation of the groundbreaking epic and paint it as its own horror story. I’m so disappointed that such a cool idea has such a flaccid execution. A slow-burn, psychological descent into madness through the creative process, A Nightmare Wakes wastes its setup by never really establishing why we should care.
Mary is presented as a timid and submissive woman, with little agency in her story. Her arc descends into the mad woman trope which doesn’t sit right for me. I’m not sure if this is historical accuracy or creative liberty, either way I am not a huge fan of it. The character work done on others, particularly Lord Byron feel more spot on. Honestly, I wish there was more at the Byron manor than shown in A Nightmare Wakes. It would have been a fantastic place for some chilling nightmare sequences, especially during his parties.
While I do have issues with the characters, I absolutely love the thematic parallels between A Nightmare Wakes and “Frankenstein.” Creation and passion are two major themes from the film that interweave perfectly with the real-life work. Mary’s obsession with her writing and her pain from losing a child directly relate to the creation of Dr. Frankenstein and the desire to connect with her characters. It also relates to the Shelley’s hope for another child and Mary’s singular hope for monogamy from her husband. Mary’s tunnel vision on finishing her work is met with derision by those closest to her, who do whatever they can to quell her thirst from creating. It feels eerily similar to the creation of Dr. Frankenstein longing for a companion to walk through life together in exile at the behest of those who don’t understand their love for one another. Is the passion of creation enough a reason to create? That question remains unanswered.
While I do love the literary ties, A Nightmare Wakes doesn’t have much else going for it beyond the motifs. It is a very dark film. That is, it’s dark in terms of literal darkness. It’s very hard to see what is going on half of the time. I get trying to recreate the era the film is set in, but I still need to be able to see what is happening. The passing of time is very ambiguous. There’s little indication when this occurs. If I’m being generous, I can assume it fades along with Mary’s perceptions of the world outside herself, but it more so feels like an excuse to make the film more dreamlike than it needs to be.
Aside from provoking some interesting thoughts and utilizing an interesting premise, A Nightmare Wakes is a lackluster film that appeals to a very niche audience. It dawdles in the existential while ignoring other potential avenues the horror could take. A largely fine production, its biggest sin lies in how little it goes to push boundaries or tell a more nightmarish story. I admire that director Nora Unkel tries to do something different here even I think she could have gone further. A largely lifeless story compared to its source material, A Nightmare Wakes won’t spark much in all but the more arthouse horror cinephiles.
Overall Score? 5.5/10