A Nightmare Wakes
A Nightmare Wakes is the second Mary Shelley biopic of recent years, following Haifaa Al-Mansour’s (Wadjda) mediocre fact-based drama Mary Shelley, which starred Elle Fanning as the iconic author of Frankenstein. This film, on the other hand, is a full-on horror that somehow manages to be more disappointing than the version that plays things straight.
Directed by newcomer Nora Unkel, the feature centres on the noteworthy marriage between Mary (Alix Wilton Regan) and poet Percy Shelley (Giullian Yao Gioiello), a complicated love story marked by trials including miscarriage. This relationship – and the emotionally torturous journey that she navigates within it – offers a vivid basis for her to scribble her masterpiece. It’s an origin story that can be interpreted in so many ways, and Unkel’s study of it is disturbing.
Alix Wilton Regan, an actress with more experience in voice work than live action (gamers will instantly recognise her voice from Dragon Age), is put through the wringer as Shelley. The author is presented as a deranged, hallucinating, substance-abusing, wailing factory of hysteria. Every one of her sensibilities is contorted as the famous Gothic novel essentially writes itself through her circumstances. By imagining her life like this, the film expects its audience to be sympathetic to her plight. Instead, viewers are left feeling hostile to the filmmaker’s choices. In spite of this, the efforts of the starring actress are appreciable.
Undoubtedly, Unkel has good intentions and certainly brings interesting direction on paper, drawing parallels between the horror of Frankenstein and the awful details of the writer’s personal life. Furthermore, the limited colour palette and dynamic camerawork help establish a brooding atmosphere. But, at some point, the whole ordeal becomes numbing, and there are ultimately too few fresh ideas in its examination of Shelley’s life. The release of A Nightmare Wakes coincides with the 170th anniversary of the author’s death, but the best way to remember her would be to simply read her literary masterwork.
A Nightmare Wakes is released digitally on demand on 4th January 2021.
Watch the trailer for A Nightmare Wakes here: