A Nightmare Wakes (Shudder) – Review

There is no shortage of Frankenstein adaptations in cinema, or cinematic interpretations of the brilliant author who birthed the monster, Mary Shelley. An intelligent, creative force to be reckoned with, Shelley inspired creators of various artistic mediums for over two centuries now. Unfortunately, the latest film centered around the iconic writer, Shudder’s A Nightmare Wakes, is a dull and plodding drama that fails to capture her spark. 

A Nightmare Wakes is written and directed by Nora Unkel and stars Alix Wilton Regan as Mary Shelley. The film follows Shelley during the time in which she conceived the idea for Frankenstein, starting with a rainy summer at the estate of Lord Byron. The story of how Frankenstein came to be is perhaps just as famous as the novel itself. It’s a shame here that the creation of the novel seems almost like an afterthought. 

Alix Wilton Regan gives her all as Mary Shelley, but the film strips her character of intelligence or wit. This also goes for Percy; the script reduces him to a mysoginistic lunkhead with no talent of his own. Any other characters in the film aren’t around enough to make any sort of impression. After all, this is Mary Shelley’s story, even if it doesn’t have the pizzazz it’s inspiration demands.

“If I cannot inspire love, then I will cause fear.”

The sets are drab and lifeless, interchangeable with one another. Unkel chooses to focus on Shelley’s troubles giving birth; her miscarriage happens about fifteen minutes into the film. The film then soaks the audience in Shelley’s misery for a punishing second act that takes up a majority of the runtime. By the time the film reaches its most interesting ideas, the credits are rolling.

The film cherry picks events from Shelley’s life, but then takes plenty of creative liberties with them. The film gives the idea that Unkel is well-researched on her subject, but she makes choices that will alienate those expecting an accurate biopic and those wanting psychological horror alike. It seems like it would be a passion project for the first-time filmmaker. It’s a shame that none of that passion is evident in the final product. 

Nestled into the drab sets and slack pacing, there are some creative ideas. Unkel suggests Shelley created the Monster in her own image, a lost soul looking for love and finding none. The Victor Frankenstein she envisions is actually an idealized version of Percy, giving the Monster–and herself–the means to live. It’s a unique angle to take, even if it doesn’t land.

“Scare us. I wish to tremble.”

The third act finally gives what the trailer to the film promises. Horror elements finally show up as the lines between fact and fiction blur, but it’s too little too late. By that time, the film has tested audience patience to the limit. The impact of the final act is null and void.

It pains me to write negative reviews on films that people work hard on, especially small, independent films such as A Nightmare Wakes. However, I must be honest and say that there was nothing here that connected with me. As a fan of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, I was hoping for a film with more life in it. Unfortunately, someone forgot to bring the electricity. It doesn’t do Mary Shelley justice, and worse, it does nothing to enhance the story behind Frankenstein. It simply exists.

If you’re a Mary Shelley fan and have a Shudder subscription, watch A Nightmare Wakes and draw your own conclusions. It may connect differently for others. I was certainly hoping it would for me. If it didn’t have the name Mary Shelley attached to it, perhaps it would be a different story. But a film about the conception of Frankenstein should have more life in it than this.

Overall Rating: 2/5

A Nightmare Wakes is now streaming on Shudder.

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