Directed by Bernard Rose.
Starring Xavier Samuel, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tony Todd, Danny Huston, Sandra Rosko, Maya Erskine, Dave Pressler.
An eccentric pair of scientists create a human monster in modern-day Los Angeles.
Another year, another adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic novel but there is a twist to this one as it sticks very closely to its source material but updates the setting to modern-day Los Angeles. This isn’t the first time that a gothic horror story has been given a contemporary makeover (Dracula A.D. 1972 springs to mind, along with countless retellings of The Phantom of the Opera, The Invisible Man, etc.) and Frankenstein has proven to be the most popular of the classic movie monsters to revisit in recent years but so far nobody seems to have gotten the formula for updating it right. So has Candyman director Bernard Rose managed to crack it?
Pretty much, yes he has. Using Shelley’s book as the main influence but drawing from other adaptations – in a nod to Bride of Frankenstein we even get a Dr. Pretorius show up – this version of Frankenstein is told from the monster’s point of view as husband-and-wife scientists Marie and Viktor Frankenstein (Carrie-Anne Moss and Danny Huston) create an artificial human by way of a 3D printer-type machine. Named Adam, the creature has the body of an adult but the intellect and development skills of a newborn baby and, after forming a bond with ‘mother’ Marie, Adam’s body starts to develop tumours and deteriorate, making his creation a failed experiment. Marie, Viktor and Dr. Pretorius (Dave Pressler) think they have destroyed Adam but his unnatural creation has given him freakish strength and he survives, breaking out of the Frankenstein’s’ lab and heading towards the city where he hooks up with blind homeless bluesman Eddie (Tony Todd), but Adam (or Monster, as he calls himself after the names that have been shouted at him along his journey) is visibly deteriorating very quickly and attracting the wrong sort of attention, forcing him to be on the receiving end of the worst of human behaviour.
Both touching and brutal, Frankenstein successfully combines old ideas with fresh twists that keep things interesting as Adam narrates over what is happening on-screen. We get a scene of Adam picking up a little girl and throwing her in the water – a controversial scene in James Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein that remained cut for over 50 years – but, like in Mary Shelley’s novel, he then jumps in and rescues her, which leads to the modern equivalent of the villagers-with-pitchforks baying for blood that every Universal Frankenstein movie seemed to include showing up to dispense vigilante justice. This brings us to one of the most traumatic scenes of the film, when Marie turns up at the police station where Adam is being held and denies knowing who he is. It is during these scenes that Xavier Samuels really sells the innocence of Adam, every physical expression and every noise a cry for help as he struggles to understand the world around him.
The best scenes, however, are the ones with Adam and Eddie getting to know each other, successfully recreating the “Friend. Good” scene from Bride of Frankenstein but in a slightly different – and possibly even warmer – way. Tony Todd is brilliant and immediately engaging as Eddie, and while his ultimate fate is inevitable, when it happens the actors on the screen manage to wrangle so much emotion out of such bloody brutality, easily making this the most tragic adaptation of Frankenstein for some time.
Frankenstein does miss the mark occasionally, most notably with the budgetary limitations making the film’s CGI-heavy climax look a little clumsy and out-of-place, especially considering how well Adam’s Brundlefly-like decay was depicted with practical make-up. Carrie-Anne Moss comes across as the weak link in the casting, her vague and wooden performance not really connecting in the same way as the rest of the main cast, including a very animated Danny Huston who manages to give quite a lot with not a lot of screen time and very little material to work with. There are also a couple of shots where Bernard Rose’s camera could have done with a wipe but, overall, most of the niggles in the film are very minor and don’t take away from the fact that this version of Frankenstein is worthy enough to be included with the other significant film versions when the definitive list of adaptations is created. There is nothing in it as iconic as the Universal or Hammer depictions, and the most faithful adaptation of the book has probably already been made in the form of Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 epic, but there’s something about this version that manages to tap into the tragedy of the story and bring it to the surface without sacrificing any of the horror that the central idea relies on, making this one of the most rewarding movies in the whole Frankenstein oeuvre.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★