Producers: Robert Menzies, Devin Shepherd, Gabriel Rosenstein, Frederic Fiore and Eric Tavitian Director: Nora Unkel Screenplay: Nora Unkel Cast: Alix Wilton Regan, Giullian Gioiello, Claire Glassford, Philippe Bowgen, Lee Garrett and
Shannon Spangler Distributor: Shudder
The story of how “Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus,” came to be written by Mary Shelley is perhaps as well-known as the novel itself: when she was visiting the house of Lord Byron in Switzerland with her lover Percy Shelley in 1816, the three of them proposed that each should write a ghost story. By the following year she had finished the book, first published in 1818.
Nora Urkel’s film is about the novel’s creation, but it’s no staid docu-drama recounting those events. Instead it’s a psychological study of how the events in Mary’s life—a miscarriage, strains in her relationship with Percy, difficulties with other women—traumatized her to an certain extent, resulting in the horror classic about life and death she eventually produced. The fractured narrative skips around chronologically, resorts to frequent dream sequences and hallucinations (including introductions to Victor Frankenstein, played by the same actor who’s Percy, and his creation), and generally speaking keeps the viewer off balance to convey the impression of what caused her literary imagination to take the path it did.
Alex Wilton Reagan seizes on her role’s varied demands as Mary, delivering a performance that doesn’t fully come together but is compelling nonetheless, while Giullian Gioiello cuts a handsome if rather puny figure as Percy/Victor. Philippe Bowgen and Lee Garrett provide somewhat stiff but adequate presences as Lord Byron and John Polidori, while Claire Glassford and Shannon Spangler are fine as the other women (and rivals of a sort) in Mary’s life, Byron’s lover Claire Clairmont and Percy’s first wife Harriet, a suicide by drowning (a motif that reappears throughout the film).
From a technical perspective “A Nightmare Wakes” is an admirable piece. Oren Soffer’s widescreen cinematography shows polish and variety, though some interiors are hazy, while Madeline Wall’s production design is impressive for a low-budget picture, as are Jennifer Stroud’s costumes. Scott Schuler’s editing aids the sense of mystery Unkel strives to achieve even if the level of integration isn’t always smooth. One shouldn’t overlook the exceptional score by Jonathan Cziner, which is remarkably varied and evocative—one of the film’s strongest assets.
“A Nightmare Wakes” represents an intriguing, though not entirely successful, reverie on the creative process behind one of the world’s best-known tales of horror.