A Nightmare Wakes [Review]

Alix Wilton Regan as Mary Shelley, Giullian Yao Gioiello as Percy Shelley-A Nightmare Wakes_Season 1-Photo Credit:Shudder

A Nightmare Wakes, directed and written by Nora Unkel is a retelling of events that took place while author Mary Shelley wrote her novel Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, that would be later considered the first science fiction novel. Throughout time Frankenstein continues to have a significant influence on horror and pop culture, featuring dozens of creative pieces being inspired and directly related to novel. The real life events took place in May of 1816, Mary Shelley (Alix Wilton Regan) travelled to Geneva, Switzerland with fellow writer and partner Percy Shelley (Giullian Yao Gioiello), step sister Claire Clairmont (Claire Glassford), and Lord Byron (Philippe Bowgen). Lord Byron challenged everyone to a competition to see who can write the best ghost story.  Mary was said to have experienced a waking dream and used that as inspiration for creating her story. The film mirrors large parts of what is documented historically but often takes creative liberties given the exact events of this period in Switzerland is largely unknown. As time goes on in the film, Mary becomes further disconnected from reality. A Nightmare Wakes strives to capture the experience of an artist in the throes of mania but somewhere along the way gets lost in its own madness.

Mary is trying to immerse herself into a life with Percy despite his inconsistency in the relationship and growing resentment towards her. As their lives together grow more strained with added layers of pregnancy, grief, and depression, she becomes increasingly encapsulated with the story she is writing. A majority of the film is spent exploring her as a tortured artist, her nightmares, and delusions. While the film does not directly make a correlation between great art being fueled by poor mental health, there is murky territory in exploring the stereotype of the tortured artist. It is a dangerous myth that artists are either not “crazy” enough to be creative, must exploit their own pain in order to produce great work, or can only produce their best work when they are at their lowest. Perhaps I am reading too far into this portrayal, after all Mary was a real person experiencing real waking terrors and haunted by visions. Although considering the amount of filling in the blanks needed given the blurry history, it’s hard to see how the film is not romanticizing mental health concerns in some capacity. In combination with some of the uncomfortable and unnecessary sexual scenes between Mary and Percy, its tone deaf at best and problematic at worst.

A Nightmare Wakes tries to achieve chilling characters coupled with a haunting atmosphere and it does to a certain degree. There are aspects to admire the portrayal about the whirlwind of her life. Regan delivers a captivating performance and the dreary cinematography beautifully captured the desperation Mary was experiencing, particularly when it came to the troubles with her family. There is some intent of exploring the impact of motherhood on Frankenstein but it comes across as a pitstop instead of a destination. Mary’s pain with motherhood is the driving factor in her writing Frankenstein. Capturing her from this particular angle would have made a far more interesting and worthwhile watch. The complicated and painful impacts of pre/postum depression are haunting in and of itself.  A Nightmare Wakes adds little to the plethora of Mary Shelley/Frankenstein inspired material making it a futile watch.