Published Feb 02, 2021A Nightmare Wakes follows Mary Shelley (Alix Wilton Regan) as she writes the literary masterpiece Frankenstein, as well as her turbulent relationship with poet Percy Shelley (Giullian Yao Gioiello).
The couple, along with poet Lord Byron (Philippe Bowgen) and Mary's sister, Claire Clairmont (Claire Glassford), sit amongst one another and share stories and poems. At this point Byron requests a ghost story. Mary saunters about the room and opens a notebook. The page is blank until Mary stares at it and out of nowhere a blob of ink appears, representing the beginning of Mary's writing journey (and the hallucinations she will go on to have).
Throughout the film, we see Mary come in and out of reality — whether in the form of a dream or a hallucination. There is a reoccurring scene of Mary walking through a dark hall with a candle to guide her, while the piercing sound of a baby crying comes from the door she is walking toward. We later find out this reoccurring scene is, in fact, a reoccurring dream. Mary jolts awake and Percy asks if she had the dream again. Mary replies with, "This feeling…I feel like it's a story. My story. A story that is already there. I just need to unleash it."
Director Nora Unkel does an amazing job of showing that Mary is the host for her story: she doesn't need to think it up, the story simply comes to her. It's a feeling that a lot of writers can relate to — the moments when the story just comes to you and all you have to do is put pen to paper.
From this point forward, Mary's hallucinations increase and we see the creation of Victor Frankenstein. Victor is played by the same actor who plays Percy, exemplifying that Mary's reality and the reality inside her novel are morphing — another subtle yet very telling detail. It takes a minute to follow the constant jumps from reality to hallucination — until you realize the reason they're so constant is because the stories of reality and Mary's hallucinations are intertwined.
Mary uses Victor as a crutch to help her with her tumultuous relationship with Percy; Mary is Percy's mistress, and his wandering eye doesn't seem to stop with Mary. As her real-life relationship with Percy continues to dwindle, a fictional relationship forms between Victor and Mary. On numerous occasions, Mary pleas for Victor to never leave her and finds comfort in his presence. The film is loaded with tiny details and metaphors, making for an amazingly well-done psychological thriller.
Claire and Percy begin to fear for Mary's state of mind, telling her that she needs to stop writing because it is making her go mad — but she can't. How could she when Frankenstein is the only stable thing in her life? It is no longer just a novel she is writing, but rather her safe place where she can escape from reality.
A Nightmare Wakes does a brilliant job of depicting a passionate artist in a vulnerable situation who will stand by her work no matter what. It's moving to see how passionate Mary Shelley was about telling her story.
The film can be enjoyed by anyone who loves psychological horror, but those who have read Frankenstein or are familiar with the authors depicted will get a little extra out of it. (Shudder)