Saturday, October 29, 2016

Frankenstein Month: 'The Frankenstein Theory' (2013)

[Fictional horror story] is actually real is a pretty common device for horror movies looking to rejuvenate tired formulas or characters, but that doesn't mean it can't be effective. Low-budget mockumentary The Frankenstein Theory takes that approach to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein novel, positing that the author based it on real letters from an actual Arctic explorer that somehow came into her possession (this doesn't fit at all with how the novel was written, but it's a necessary suspension of disbelief for the movie's basic setup). The main character here is Jonathan Venkenheim (Kris Lemche), descendant of the "real" scientist upon whom Shelley based her Victor Frankenstein character. An academic who's become obsessed with his ancestor's work, Jonathan is determined to track down the real creature, supposedly still living in the frozen north (in Canada, not the Arctic, since presumably that was easier and cheaper to shoot).

Jonathan recruits a documentary crew for this expedition, and the movie mostly follows the found-footage formula, albeit with a more polished style since it's apparently meant to have been edited and and shaped after the fact (although this is a problematic assumption given how the movie ends). So there is some non-diegetic music, time-lapse scene transitions, overlapping dialogue between scenes, etc. But there are also plenty of found-footage cliches, including characters filming everything even while in danger, clumsy exposition delivered directly to the camera, terrors depicted in night vision, and most of all the interminable tedium of people bumbling around filming their mundane tasks when all the audience wants to see is some people getting killed.

Theory is almost entirely a waiting game, and the characters just aren't interesting enough to justify spending that much time watching them bicker and theorize. The only semi-interesting relationship is between Jonathan and his girlfriend, who appears in a couple of scenes early in the movie and then breaks up with him over the phone, after refusing to come on the expedition. The three documentary crew members are basically interchangeable schlubby white dudes, and the documentary director's only interesting trait is that she's a woman in a crew of all men (which is never really explored). The briefly referenced past friendship between director Vicky (Heather Stephens) and Jonathan is also never really explored, and in the end she's used for a cheap gag to close the movie.

The monster doesn't make even a brief appearance until an hour into the 86-minute movie, and he's never onscreen for more than a few seconds. Almost all of the violence takes place offscreen, but instead of coming off as creepy and unsettling, it just feels like a cheat. Director and co-writer Andrew Weiner never really engages with Shelley's story, despite using it as the entire foundation of his movie. Jonathan does present a theory of sorts about what's happened to Frankenstein's monster, but it ends up as meaningless and superficial as the trappings of any other mediocre found-footage movie. The unseen monster stalking the characters could have been Bigfoot or a yeti or a werewolf or something else entirely, and it wouldn't have made much difference.

No comments: