Mary Shelley’s classic tale of twisted science and the nature of existence has stimulated the imagination since it’s debut in 1818, and it’s constant adaptation on stage and screen in the years that have followed illustrates its power, and the cultural fascination surrounding it. Now, director Bernard Rose, famous for his work on elegant horror classics Paperhouse and Candyman, has crafted a thoroughly modern interpretation, and in the process, taking the old myth of creation and revitalizing it in a film that is striking for its beauty and the depth of its social and cultural concern.

Updating the events of the story to present day Los Angeles, Frankenstein sees a married research couple create a near perfect specimen of humanity, Adam, artificially through a 3-D printing process. At first a revelation, quickly it becomes clear something is wrong as Adam starts to deteriorate, and as a result, he is rejects and abandoned by his creator. Left alone and afraid in a world completely new to him, he discovers wonders…but more so, he discovers the true nature of humanity in all its monstrous vulgarity. Rose decides to tell the story from the monster’s perspective, a masterstroke that draws the audience directly into the world of this ‘child’ in a new world, a blank space in which we can apply our own emotions to the subject. It’s a choice that works perfectly and provides a platform for a truly immersive experience.

In such a crucial role, where the film potentially will rise or fall depending on his performance, Xavier Dolan delivers a career best performance. He imbues the creature with such pathos, able to draw complete sympathy through his child-like innocence, and yet brimming with inexpressible emotion…the fury, love, hate and wonder behind the pain and torment, always burning brightly in his eyes. Dolan combines this intense interiority with a perfect blend of subtly and explosiveness in his physicality, a dance of emotions that is absolutely captivating.

Also impressing in a small but crucial role is Tony Todd, reuniting with Rose for the first time since Candyman, as Eddie, a blind vagrant who takes the creature under his wing; Todd imbues the character with tremendous personality and a truth that is effortless and accommodating, giving the film a burst of humanity and energy that propels the journey into the dark side of the city and inevitably a space in which all that is light and dark of humanity coalesces.

Rather than overplaying style or perhaps over stressing the clinical scientific edge, Rose uses a naturalistic style, often allowing his camera to move closely along with his characters in a slightly rough, handheld fashion, that both brings the fantastic and the real clashing together, focusing on the grit and unglamorous nature of life, while also reflecting the focus on the natural and the creature’s engagement with the textures of this new world, as seen in Shelley’s novel. Furthermore, such a tactic reinforces the focus on the creature’s interaction with the world, commenting on the prevailing sense of anger, disillusion and distrust in the world; using Downtown L.A. as a setting works perfectly to intensify this, and brings a grounded sensibility to the more expressive thoughts of the creature. Of course, it could be argued that this is occasionally overplayed, in particular the appearance of a character whose hatred for the creature is so intense that it borders on the irrational and almost breaks the illusion. However, I believe that the irrationality on display serves to reinforce the impossibility of understanding human nature, and as the creature is exposed to more and more, his directness becomes something almost saintly, if impinged by a longing and desire that can only be described as…human.

Truly a Frankenstein’s creation, Rose’s film is inspired by both the original text and the cinematic adaptations of the past, coming together to bring a distinct new vision, deeply concerned with the modern social context. Like the subtitle of Shelley’s tome, ‘a modern Prometheus,’ Rose has breathed life into the classical beast, showing the immortality of the ideas Shelley explored centuries before, and their importance to this society as much, if not more so, as they were to the 19th century; the tension between progress and purity raging at the heart of human existence. Frankenstein lives, and it is a thing of absolute beauty.

DVD Review: Frankenstein
4.0Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)

About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk