“A Nightmare Wakes” – Movie Review

Along with Dracula, Frankenstein (or more accurately Frankenstein’s Monster) remains a beacon of both horror and literature, instantly recognizable to even non-fans.  However, few know the story behind what is arguably the first “science gone wrong” cautionary tale.

Many automatically assume that the author of “Frankenstein” (or as it was alternately titled “The Modern Prometheus”) was written by a man.  Its author, Mary Shelley even faced backlash in her day, with many alleging that the iconic novel was written by her husband.

Shudder’s latest original film, A Nightmare Wakes takes a historical approach to Mary Shelley, but with a surreal twist that makes for a fascinating watch!

Scandalous Setting
True to real life history, Mary begins the story as a mistress to Percy Bysse Shelley, who is already married.  They’re gathered with a group of friends on holiday and pass the time telling scary stories.

However the real horror is in the abuse Mary faces from Percy, as well as a pregnancy that ends in tragedy (also true to real life history).  The film takes a semi-biographical approach in this regard, but then runs with it into downright trippy territory as Mary’s mind begins to unravel, and she sees things that she can’t be sure are real or not.

The very best kind of psychological thrillers leave you just as unsure as the characters about what’s real and what isn’t.

Frankenstein Origin Story?
For those looking for a Finding Neverland blend of creator biography and subject origin, A Nightmare Wakes might be disappointing.  But that doesn’t at all mean it’s not brilliant in what it sets out to do.

Rather than outright referencing “Frankenstein” left and right, we see Mary working on her novel, and we see the same types of horrors she would later write about creep into her mind.  So while it doesn’t reference the beloved classic overtly, it accurately captures the spirit of it, in how the author may have while creating it.

It also uses its art design and alluring cinematography to its advantage.

Writer’s Woes
They say that to be a writer one must be a just a little bit mad.  Speaking from experience in the field, it’s not at all inaccurate. Writers draw from their own experiences, joys, pains, and life lessons to create their craft.  As a fellow writer, it was really easy to relate to.

While not all of us deal with such grim or serious issues as abuse or hallucinations, we all utilize our “baggage” for the craft.  Director Tim Burton once joked that making his films are like a therapy for him, and it’s the greatest setup in the world that he’s the one being paid to do it.

A Nightmare Wakes blends historical drama with dark and disturbing supernatural visuals.  It boasts subtle and strong performances with a devoted attention to detail, particularly in its early 19th Century setting.  There are a lot of scenes lit with just candlelight, which really adds to the overall mood.

It really does add the ambience.

It’s not quite the Frankenstein origin story some may be expecting, but in its place it offers a compelling dive into the twisted mind of a writer.  It may not feature the iconic movie monster, but it’s every bit as gothic and unsettling!

A Nightmare Wakes is premiering exclusively on Shudder February 4, 2021

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