Warning: Mild Spoilers Ahead
Plot: A psychological tale of how a young Mary Shelley drew inspiration from her personal tragedies to write the infamous Gothic horror novel Frankenstein. The film premiered on Shudder on February 4.
Review: The name Mary Shelley has become synonymous with one of the most famous Gothic Horror novels to have ever been written—Frankenstein. The plot of this low budget thriller follows a young Mary Shelley who first starts off as the mistress to Percy Shelley. The eerie opening scene of a young woman heavily pregnant as she wades deeper and deeper into a dark lake until she fully disappears from sight is enough to set the dark, chilling tone of the film. We then cut to another heavily pregnant woman who is revealed to be Mary expecting her first child with Percy.
After visiting Percy’s best friend Lord Byron (who has challenged all his friends to write the scariest story ever), Mary suffers a tragic miscarriage that is represented in a rather graphic scene where she is wearing white and, as she begins to experience intense pain and bleeding, as a small glass bottle of black ink falls unto her now blood-soaked dress. It seemed to be a foreshadowing of things to come—her soon-to-be creation of a horrific monster born out of death.
It is later revealed that Percy’s wife Harriet was pregnant at the same time and he receives a letter informing him that she has committed suicide by drowning herself and their unborn child in a lake. Now it becomes clear to the audience who the mysterious young woman was in the opening scene of the film. Perhaps the lives of his two unborn children being taken is a representation of divine punishment for breaking the sanctity of marriage.
In response to Lord Byron’s aforementioned challenge Mary begins to form the still unnamed Gothic novel and it slowly becomes a form of therapeutic obsession. As she spends more and more time writing her novel, which seemed to be born out of her vivid hallucinations and terrifying nightmares, her relationship with Percy begins to suffer. I did not appreciate how they turned Mary into a character that seemed to use sex as a fix for a disintegrating relationship.
The film also depicts that Mary Shelley may have written the novel with an extremely fractured mind, which may or may not have been true as the true life of the author was extremely traumatic. She did lose three children before having her fourth and only surviving child. Mary also lost her husband Percy after a mere six years of marriage in a boating accident during a storm in Italy. However the film takes a lot of liberties, so it is not an actual biographic of the famed novelist’s early life.
It does, however, touch a bit on the ostracism and financial struggle that Mary experienced from turning her back on her family to live with Percy Shelly, who was a married man at the time. Percy did eventually make an honest woman out of her though under duress and after she became pregnant for a second time.
The film is extremely metaphorical and artsy in its representation of the many hallucinations experienced by Mary Shelly while she writes her novel. It is definitely not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and the film is greatly flawed by spending too much time on sexual desire as a means to an end. I would have preferred it a little less psychological and more focused on a version of Mary Shelly that didn’t seem to become poisoned or emotionally broken but one that highlights her actual talent for the Gothic horror genre.
Dark Alice’s Score: 5.5 out of 10
You can view A Nightmare Wakes for yourself along with other great horror content on Shudder by clicking the big red logo:
For my review of The Bride of Frankenstein, which features Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron in small roles, you can click here. And for more Gothic horror you can check out my review of Amulet here.
Dark Alice has an old soul and a curious mind. I believe that anyone can be a hero and that the good guys should always win! I dislike cruelty to animals and think that they have far superior qualities to humans. My motto is there is no future without the past. I also have a weird penchant for Paranormal TV shows even though the slightest sound makes me jump. I enjoy writing reviews and throwing in fun facts to pique the readers’ curiosity. My ultimate goal in life would be to become a published writer one day. You can find me as Dark Alice Reviews on Facebook where you’ll get my reviews hot off the press. You can also find me on Instagram as alice_oscura and my Twitter handle is @lise_veliz2. For my extended bio you can click here.