A NIGHTMARE WAKES will not be one for history buffs
A NIGHTMARE WAKES (2021)
A psychological thriller that reimagines the experiences of infamous writer Mary Shelley as she wrote her masterpiece Frankenstein, A Nightmare Wakes focuses less on the history behind the story and more on the troubled mind of who created it.
Directed by Nora Unkel, who also wrote the screenplay, there are moments of brilliance within the film which are heavily tied to the horror element of the story; however, the film lacks tension in key moments and struggles to keep emotions high throughout the runtime.
A Nightmare Wakes is Unkel’s first feature film, and her talent is clear in scenes where Mary starts to unravel. Her knowledge of the gothic horror genre is obvious and influences the best moments of the film, but she fails to inject the necessary power needed to drive the plot forward or sell the final act’s most powerful moments, instead leaving the film's emotion to feel very surface level.
We follow Mary Shelley (though at the time period she was not yet married to Percy Shelley, but instead his mistress) as she suffers a personal trauma. Whilst recovering, she starts to envision the story of a monster, and the infamous plot of Frankenstein starts to appear before her. Driven mad by grief, stress, boredom, and depression she starts to lose her grip on reality and those around her, visualising the story more and more as she falls away from lover Percy and into the arms of her Victor.
The story of a woman driven mad by grief is a successful one, but it feels cluttered by the Frankenstein elements. Being a reimagining, the story does not follow the historical realities of Shelley’s life, but there is very little real to ground it either. It raises the question, why base it around Mary Shelley at all if so few elements of her real life are going to be utilised in the story? Instead, the nods to Frankenstein draw out an already slow story and distract from the central narrative of Mary’s slow descent into madness.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Alix Wilton Regan does what she can with a limited character – we never get to know too much about Mary, and she spends a large portion of the film in bed crying. Whilst she has good chemistry with Giullian Yao Gioiello’s Percy, his character is somewhat replaceable as are all our supporting cast who have little to no characterisation. We don’t get to know enough about Mary to really feel moved by her plight or notice the differences in her when the madness starts to take over, which means pivotal scenes towards the second half of the film don’t have the shock value you would expect since the characters involved don’t feel grounded.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Scenes using Mary’s ink mixed with or representing blood are excellent. At times the ink pools out of her, from her hands, her eyes, everywhere, and creates a gorgeous visual metaphor with realistic effect. The use of colour, or removal of colour as Mary gets more and more depressed and retreats into herself, is equally impressive and subtle enough that you don’t initially see it happening while falling into this grey world with Mary. The gothic locations used are equally appealing and help add to the ghost story elements within the film.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
An impressive score and use of natural sound help to close in the outside world around Mary as she becomes trapped in her own mind and loses touch with reality. It comes in to play more and more towards the end of the film but is used sparingly enough as to not overdo it or lead the audience too much.
A Nightmare Wakes will not be one for history buffs, feeling almost completely removed from the true story of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. Whilst there are impressive visuals and some solid moments of tension in the film, as a whole it’s a lacklustre experience which struggles to really move or ignite its core story.