[Minor Spoilers Ahead]
You know what Bernard Rose’s FRANKƐN5TƐ1N — the latest in a long line of modern adaptations of Mary Shelley’s immortal novel — could use? A thick coating of 1970s film grain. As I tried to gather my thoughts on Rose’s film, my mind kept wandering back to Paul Morrissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein (1973), an admittedly flawed yet captivating piece of cinematic weirdness whose visual panache helped keep it afloat amongst stilted acting and low-budget campiness. There, the film grain helped give it a sense of feverish timelessness and emotional authenticity. Forty years from now Rose’s FRANKƐN5TƐ1N will seem cringingly dated.
FRANKƐN5TƐ1N advertises itself as being an interpretation of the classic novel as seen through the eyes of the Monster himself, apparently forgetting that many of the most memorable scenes in the original Universal films — the accidental drowning of the little girl, the Monster’s communion with the blind hermit — were shown from his point of view. But Rose pushes the limits of the Monster’s subjectivity by devoting many scenes to first-person perspective shots, particularly in the early scenes where he is born and first becomes cognizant of himself, his surroundings and the existential awareness of awareness itself.
Although “born” isn’t quite the right word. In one of the film’s only truly ingenious ideas, the Monster is meticulously 3-D printed over the span of many months. I call this ingenious because a) with the advent of 3-D printed organs, the eventual printing of entire sentient organisms doesn’t seem too improbable, and b) it explains why the Monster, played by Xavier Samuel, looks like a European male model instead of a macabre amalgamation of dead body parts.
But the cleverness ends there as the Monster escapes into the real world and stumbles his way through the familiar bullet points of the Frankenstein myth. He accidentally kills a few people in self-defense, learns to survive in the wild, has a run-in with a young girl next to a large body of water and becomes friends with a blind outsider, in this case a homeless blues singer named Eddie (Tony Todd) who “teaches him the ropes.” Along the way he is assaulted, attacked, lynched and generally cringed at by all he encounters. One plot point that confused me was his encounter with a prostitute named Wanda (Maya Erskine) whom he accidentally kills. Was this supposed to be this film’s equivalent of Universal Studio’s Bride of Frankenstein or just the latest in Hollywood’s use of sex workers as disposable props to be brutally and tragically killed in brutal and tragic scenes?
I have a difficult time believing that FRANKƐN5TƐ1N was directed by the same man responsible for that low-key horror masterpiece Candyman (1992), a film which reveled in the kind of moral ambiguity and aesthetic griminess that this one merely aspires to. In FRANKƐN5TƐ1N, the commentary on societal distrust and revulsion towards outsiders seems forced and laughable — not one single cry of “Monster!” seemed authentic or natural, not one indignity didn’t seem ripped from the pages of a half-hearted Stephen King novel. All of the sets, from antiseptic laboratory hallways to trash-strewn back alleys, seem too manicured, too clean when they should be dirty, too bright when they should be dark.