Director: Bernard Rose
Writer: Bernard Rose, Mary Shelley
Producer: Gabriela Bacher, Heidi Jo Markel, Jennifer Holliday, Christian Angermayer, Klemens Hallmann
Stars: Xavier Samuel, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tony Todd, Maya Erskine, Danny Huston
Mary Shelley’s classic tale of a man-made monster is re-imagined with modern day Los Angeles as its setting.
In writer/director Bernard Rose’s contemporary retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic tale, Frankenstein’s creature isn’t a reanimated collection of criminal corpse parts. Married research scientists Marie and Victor employ a Monsanto methodology to manufacturing a monster, using synthesized cells and precision biotechnology to engineer Adam, their ideal human.
Almost ideal, anyway. While Adam stumbles through early childhood in the body of an advanced adult, his tissue rapidly deteriorates, deforming him into a leprous grotesquerie. Adam is subsequently discarded as defective both literally and figuratively. Without Marie’s maternal bond guiding his development, Adam escapes into the city where athlete strength and an infantile mind meet with monstrous consequences for the hookers, homeless, authorities, and angry mobs unknowingly trespassing against his journey of self-discovery.
Initially intriguing about “Frankenstein” 2015 is its switch in scenery from 18th-century Europe to 21st-century Los Angeles, a setting suited for reinvigorating the plot’s key points with present day parallels. Cause for more caution is initial uncertainty over depicting Frankenstein’s monster as a fair-featured model type in an Old Navy hoodie.
Yet with a number of comments and critics citing it as “terrific,” deeply emotional, even rating the film 9/10, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Bernard Rose had finally recaptured the horror movie magic of 1992’s “Candyman.” Having experienced this vision of “Frankenstein” firsthand, my own conclusion is that I have no idea what supporters see in this mess of a movie.
Not for one second does “Frankenstein” present itself as remotely realistic. I’m willing to go halfway on suspension of disbelief for independent productions with tight schedules and tighter checkbooks. But a movie has to meet me in the middle so I don’t feel like my intelligence or entertainment standards are completely undervalued. “Frankenstein” realizes itself with such casual cheapness that investing in its fiction is out of the question. Being a minimalist movie does not mean it can get away with exerting minimal effort.
Roughly 10,000 officers serve in the LAPD, yet no matter where Adam wanders in the city, he is always within the route of the same random patrolman eager to put a nightstick in Adam’s belly or a bullet in his brain. Why not change the officer to a detective specifically assigned Adam’s case so his serendipitous appearances make some semblance of sense?
Adam and his homeless pal Eddie chug from a bottle of Evan Williams whiskey in one scene. Make that “(Blank) Williams” as a conspicuous piece of black gaffer’s tape obscures the first word to skirt around trademark compensation. How hard is it to have an actor turn a prop bottle away from the camera, or to task the art department with printing up a dummy label?
“Frankenstein” expects viewers to immerse themselves in a world where a street musician knows only one repeated guitar scale and a kempt prostitute with no regard for personal health willingly lays with a monstrous mute looking like he stepped straight from the KNB trailer on “The Walking Dead” set. Minor issues remain minor only when their sum total does not accumulate into a major problem. What is frustrating about the film’s consistently careless concern for detail is that much of it can be resolved with five minutes of rewriting or a $5 bill.
One of Rose’s chief charges as director is to make such matters inconsequential through impassioned performances, believable dramatization, and thoughtful scripting. “Frankenstein” exhibits few of these intents, instead fashioning itself like the originally envisioned creature, stitched from an ill-fitting assembly of disparate parts never fully forming the idealized construct in mind.
Rose and lead actor Xavier Samuel consciously choose to portray Adam as predominantly childlike, shambling like a baby learning his limbs while mimicking speech through goo-goos and ga-gas. It’s a snicker-worthy sight to see onscreen. I suppose if scientists are going to create a flawless man, he should be impossibly handsome. But it is hard to take horror seriously when it comes at the hand of a fully grown “monster” suckling a baby bottle with perfectly coiffed headshot hair.
Scripting silliness rarely ceases and odd editing gives the appearance of entire sequences missing in action. In desperate need of a callback to Adam’s Oedipus complex, dialogue hilariously has a cop cry “mom!” while receiving a vicious beating. There should be shock at the savage sight of the man’s head being caved in, yet “Frankenstein” has him react like a toddler taking a snowball to the face on a playground.
In the next scene, a gaggle of bloodthirsty locals bearing baseball bats and 2x4s manifests from thin air, wearing sleeveless denim and flannel shirts to ensure the obviousness of their redneck origins. After a silent scene of Adam carrying his dead dog, the mob’s sudden sore thumb appearance is one of several times the question “where did that come from?” springs immediately to mind.
Staging is sloppy. A scene of Adam being assaulted under a bridge is briefly interrupted when the camera tilts at the sound of an unseen train passing overhead. Trains feature in backgrounds of other shots, although ultimately amount to nothing. That makes this moment read as though the camera operator is simply looking to see the source of an unexpected noise, with no one bothering to edit the error or call for a second take. Similarly, when an audible car horn competes with a scream, there is no knowing for certain if it is some unknown artistic stroke or an unaddressed soundtrack gaffe.
“Frankenstein” 2015 demonstrates deafness in understanding how “Frankenstein” 1931 achieves emotional power through sympathetic characterizations. The blind man eager for friendship out of desperate loneliness is now a streetwise slickster teaching Adam to bed a prostitute. The sad scene of a little girl’s drowning gains even less by making the event nonfatal and having Adam react with practically contemptuous laughter. Meanwhile, Karloff’s signature performance illustrates tragedies of misunderstanding via heartbreaking horror and conflicting feelings concerning who is the greater victim of unenviable misfortune.
Endless shots of needles injecting fluids during an overlong introduction of spoon-feeding and gurney-wheeling. Ineffective action like a choking doctor limply swiping his scalpel at Adam’s arm in self-defense. Articulate voiceovers of an evolved narrator inconsistent with Adam’s final fate. Even the credit font is uniform and uninteresting as one more questionable element failing at contributing to a cohesive vision.
“Frankenstein” doesn’t even make sense as the title. That’s how disorganized its conception is. Frankenstein of course refers to the creator and not the creation, yet Victor and Marie barely feature in the film. Frankenstein is in effect a meaningless word to this movie. In a certain light, that fact might be perceived as befitting an adaptation unimportant to Frankenstein filmdom as a whole.
Review Score: 35