Director: Nora Unkel
Notable Cast: Alix Wilton Regan, Giullian Gioiello,
Claire Glassford, Philippe Bowgen, Lee Garrett
While film and television adaptions of Frankenstein
continually find their way to release every year, there is also a quite common
trend in trying to adapt the life of Mary Shelley into the film landscape. At
this point I must have seen half a dozen films that are inspired or directly
attempt this approach and the latest, coming straight through your internet via
Shudder, is A Nightmare Wakes. The life of Shelley and the writing of
her iconic novel makes for a fascinating story in their own right, but there are
only so many times one can see a ‘new angle’ on the material before it grows
stale – just as the various versions of Frankenstein can cover enough ground.
With A Nightmare Wakes, director Nora Unkel attempts to craft a
psychological thriller around Shelley’s life during the writing of her novel.
Subtle and atmospheric are two traits to truly sell a
concept such as this to a hungry horror audience looking for the next artsy scare
to leap behind and, on paper, A Nightmare Wakes is certainly just that.
It’s a film that thrusts itself squarely into this arena with its slow burn, loose
narrative, character-driven plot, and subtle horror elements. To its benefit,
there are some solid performances to partner with its intentions of delivering
a ‘character study’ on the descent into horror by Shelley and when the film starts
to really engage with blurring the lines between reality and the horrors of
Shelley’s mind one can easily see why this film would work.
A Nightmare Wakes would work too for all of those reasons
if it wasn’t such a groggy and flat film. While the atmospheric tone and
character-driven narrative fit into the current horror landscape, the film
ultimately lacks the sense of urgency to deliver on the themes of its story, but
also the scares on hand as the dark fantasy creeps into Shelley’s real world.
There are a handful of images that haunt, particularly that opening shot and
how long it holds. However, even when the ideas are sound and solid, the film
tends to play light with them. The blending of Percy Shelley and her character
of Frankenstein? Fascinating and hardly utilized to the maximum effect it might
For those horror fans looking for something perhaps a bit
more subtle and dramatic, A Nightmare Wakes does offer that. The
character-driven plot and many of the ideas work on a foundational level. It’s
a shame that the resulting film tends to drag on at a sloth’s pace and
underdelivers on many of its bright and horrific promises. Considering there
are now so many Mary Shelley films that exist, A Nightmare Wakes needed
to lean further into its strengths to deliver on its unique angle.