Monday, October 31, 2016

Frankenstein Month: 'Frankenstein' (2015)

Writer-director Bernard Rose (Candyman, Immortal Beloved) uses verbatim passages from Mary Shelley's novel as voiceover narration in his low-budget version of Frankenstein, but this is not what you'd call a faithful adaptation. Set in the present day (possibly because period details were out of the movie's budget range), Rose's film focuses almost solely on the monster, with some reimagined characters and scenarios from the novel. It opens with the monster's birth, as the product of some sort of experiment in genetic engineering (it's never quite clear), which takes place in what appears to be an abandoned warehouse or office building. Rose managed to get Danny Huston as Victor Frankenstein and Carrie-Anne Moss as Elizabeth Frankenstein (in this version, they're married and are both scientists), but they're in less than half of the movie.

Instead the real star is Xavier Samuel as the monster, who escapes from the facility (actually some sort of bunker underneath the Frankensteins' Southern California mansion) after his creators decide to put him out of his misery (he starts out looking like a boy band member before developing gruesome deformities). With his inhuman strength and invulnerability, the monster apparently can't be killed (over the course of the movie, he's given lethal injection, choked, shot point blank multiple times and had his throat slit), so he wanders off to discover humanity, only to be rejected and mistreated, much like Shelley's monster. But he's also more violent and less intelligent; although he continues to speak eloquently in voiceover, his dialogue is limited to grunts and a handful of poorly articulated words, and Rose and Samuel present him as essentially a child, not the erudite thinker of the novel.

As such, he ends up being incredibly annoying, and it doesn't help that Samuel's performance is poor, failing to convey the anguish and isolation that should engender audience sympathy. The plot is aimless, as the monster stumbles across various people who want to help or harm him (mostly harm, even if they start out helping). Rose reconfigures the blind peasant of the novel as a blind, homeless African-American blues musician (played by Candyman's Tony Todd), and the character is such a silly stereotype that I kept thinking of David Alan Grier's Calhoun Tubbs from In Living Color. The cops who have a curiously strong vendetta against the monster are equally cartoonish (and played by some very bad actors), and the final confrontation with the Frankensteins just emphasizes how much the rest of the movie suffers from Huston and Moss' absence.

Rose never explains much about the scientists, what they're attempting to accomplish with their experiment, why they work in their own private bunker, what their relationship is like, whether they're concerned that their dangerous creation escaped into the night. The entire movie is told from the monster's perspective, but his perspective is limited and limiting compared to how Shelley imagined it, and the people he encounters are crude, one-dimensional ciphers. Each awkward interaction highlights the bargain-level filmmaking; the fight scenes are especially clumsy and unconvincingly staged. The movie runs less than 90 minutes, truncating large portions of the story and closing on what's meant to be a tragic sacrifice, but only comes across as one more inauthentic stumble in a movie full of them.

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