18 – 89mins – 2015
The sum of husband and wife Viktor (Danny Huston) and Marie Frankenstein’s (Carrie-Anne Moss) unorthodox endeavours to find “the formula for life,” Adam (Xavier Twilight Samuel) is ‘born’ perfect: handsome, healthy and endowed with the strength of ten men. However, his mental state is far behind his physical stature, and a number of “cell replication errors” bring about body deformities which prove to Adam’s creators that he is not the revolutionary breakthrough they first believed him to be.
“Are you a man or are you an animal?!”
Detached and distressed, Adam breaks out of his laboratory isolation following a bloody bone saw tussle with a technician, and he escapes into the big, wild world, where this naïve soul learns of the darker side of humanity…
A potent miscellany of twenty-first century idioms, technologies, social issues and scientific ponderings are infused with the base elements of Mary Shelley’s oft-adapted Victorian horror novel, transplanted to the modern day by Candyman director Bernard Rose. While some of the augmentations work well, others feel incidental and superfluous in this uneven update – sometimes awkwardly stylised as FRANK3N5T31N – which is sold with the slightly misleading USP of being told from the monster’s perspective.
While Adam does narrate his journey of discovery, there is a bizarre (but no doubt purposeful) disassociation between his overly philosophical and often grandly poetic internalised musings, and the childlike ignorance he displays on-screen with his “capacity of a one year old”. Such is his infantile mindset that Adam is frequently the victim of savage abuse, until he is befriended by blind busker Eddie (Tony Todd), who mentors him in how to survive when living rough.
The unbridled brutality (which often feels affected to uncomfortable overkill just to achieve the apex age rating) goes hand-in-hand with a frankly maladroit approach to lighting. As the film opens everything is overlit and gives the picture a rather graceless, unsubtle quality – at one point the saturation is so high a cabbage looks neon!
Echoing the evolution of the monster and the (thankful) variation in lighting direction, Frankenstein’s more nuanced second half is a vast improvement on the one note, in-your-face opening act, bringing shade and sentiment to the sadistic slaughter. Adam’s homecoming goes so far as to add parental poignancy with such painful insights as:
“You made me… you hate me… I am I… I am you… I am… alone.”
It isn’t perfect, but Rose’s gleefully bold and shamelessly grisly update does have a brain beneath its bloodstained body – it just needed time to grow into it.