Nora Unkel’s gothic romance A Nightmare Wakes is a film that tells the story of the creation of Frankenstein. Blending biography and fiction, Unkel’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s life unmasks the passion and drive behind a literary classic. A Nightmare Wakes is a fusion of poetry and horror.
There have been many retellings of the visit to Lord Byron’s Villa Diodati, where the host challenged his guests to write a ghost story. Ken Russel’s 1986 film Gothic is one of the most notable predecessors, which focuses on the most hedonistic attributes of the Romantic era writers. That legendary weekend two additions to the literary canon were conceived: John Polidori’s The Vampyre and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Unkel draws on the historical weekend and the personal details of Mary and Percy Shelley’s relationship to craft a story filled with tension, fear, and intensity.
Unkel’s use of ink and blood creates some haunting visuals. Images of the two are used throughout the film, highlighting the connection between author and creator as the film masterfully grapples with themes of motherhood and mortality. There are beautiful shots of the forest and water that add to the expansiveness of the scenery. Unkel tells Mary Shelley’s story through the lens of nature and artistry.
There is some great casting in this film. Alix Witten Regan plays Mary Shelley and gives an amazing performance as she conveys terror and excitement during some of the most chaotic scenes. Lee Garrett plays Dr. John Polidori and brings a groundedness and intellectuality to the character. While Garrett’s role is minimal it leaves a lasting impression. Phillippe Bowgen gives an entertaining performance of Lord Byron. Giullian Yao Gioiello is a fine Percey Shelley, but he’s even better in the manifestation of Mary Shelley’s imagination.
Unkel’s film is a tribute to Frankenstein and his creator. A Nightmare Wakes is inventive and finds a creative way to pack layers and details of Shelley’s life.
A Nightmare Wakes premiers on Shudder February 4th
Like what we do here at AIPT? Consider supporting us and independent comics journalism by becoming a patron today! In addition to our sincere thanks, you can browse AIPT ad-free, gain access to our vibrant Discord community of patrons and staff members, get trade paperbacks sent to your house every month, and a lot more. Click the button below to get started!