Not to be confused with the upcoming, Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy starring, Victor Frankenstein, Bernard “Candyman” Rose’s Frankenstein is the dreamy, gory, and strangely moving modern take on the most famous monster story of all time for which we didn’t even realise we’d been waiting.
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Aussie hunk Xavier Samuel, of The Loved Ones and Twilight fame, is the monster with American Horror Story‘s Danny Huston his creator and Carrie-Anne Moss as Mrs. Frankenstein/his wannabe bride, as it were. The film opens, with the renegade scientists bringing their creation to life after years of toil, teaching him how to eat, walk and communicate.
As this is, ostensibly, a monster movie, the man-made-man inevitably gets loose and starts to run riot around the local town, coming across friendly and unfriendly sorts along the way. Throughout, Candace Higgins’ breathtaking cinematography elegantly captures the monster’s discovery of the beauty of nature, and his struggle to understand the world around him.
Her work on this film cannot be understated. It elevates Frankenstein from looking like just another horror movie, to a beautiful, awe-inspiring movie—an important distinction given the genre’s tendency to be seen as a lower art-form. Samuel, as the tortured, confused creation is also gorgeously captured, his good looks destroyed but still sneaking through his fractured outer layer.
This is Samuel’s movie to carry, and this is both his meatiest role and his strongest performance to date. Tasked with communicating his emotions purely through a series of grunts and whimpers, he acts with his entire body, structuring his monster with a gait and a broken posture that showcases his discomfort.
We watch him take more than a few beatings over the movie’s relatively short running time, barely reacting, his eyes flickering slightly to reveal a functioning mind but otherwise nothing else. In Frankenstein‘s most horrifying sequence, he is dragged through the dirt by a truck as the townspeople cheer and holler.
As the blind homeless singer who takes pity on him, Candyman himself, Tony Todd, is nicely restrained in an un-showy, tender role. Not only is it his quietest, sweetest performance to date but he covers the musical side of things better than one might assume him capable.
The most surprising thing about Rose’s take on Frankenstein is its poignancy, which comes out mainly in Todd’s interactions with the monster. Rose’s flick is all about being misunderstood, being an outsider in an often cruel world, and this is best represented in how Todd’s character, who is incredibly down on his luck, treats the struggling creation.
Many of their interactions, while begging on the streets of L.A., were conducted with real people, as they went about their day to day lives, and these scenes are lent a realism that gels nicely with Rose’s message about treating everyone you meet how you wish to be treated.
Naturally, Frankenstein is still a horror movie and Bernard Rose is still Bernard Rose, so there’s a great deal of gory body horror to contend with here. Particularly, in a heart-breaking sequence in which it’s somehow deemed urgent to pop the monster’s cherry, we get a full shot of the damage.
As the monster’s many, oozing boils are revealed in all their hideous glory, a sort of calm takes over. Much like Mary Shelley’s original vision, the monster’s purpose on this earth is revealed as someone, or something, who just wants to be loved and accepted.
Rose has a lot to say without saying too much, and the sound design, in particular, is impeccable. It is well-served by Higgins’ gorgeous cinematography, that captures Everytown, USA in the not-too-distant future effortlessly.
In fact, the only element that doesn’t really gel is the overly earnest voice-over, in which the monster gets to speak. Not only does it rob him of his mystique, it adds absolutely nothing to the story.
Wholly unnecessary, given Rose’s demonstrable skills as a storyteller, and the fact everyone on earth knows Frankenstein enough to put the pieces together regardless of what’s happening onscreen, the narration isn’t worthy of the film’s majesty.
Rose envisioned his Frankenstein as a modern retelling of the classic tale, which put Mrs. Frankenstein front and centre while Victor is the cold-hearted villain of the piece.
It’s a choice that serves the story well here, particularly with the talented Moss in the role, but she doesn’t get much to do until the end, existing mainly as a figment of her creation’s subconscious.
In many ways, Mrs. Frankenstein is both Frank’s creator and his bride, which is an interesting theory that is subtly hinted at throughout but never fully realised, much to Rose’s credit.
As with the film itself, he, and indeed his monster, says it best when he says nothing at all.
WICKED RATING: 6.5/10
Director(s): Bernard Rose
Writer(s): Bernard Rose
Stars: Xavier Samuel, Carrie-Anne Moss, Danny Huston, Tony Todd
Studio/ Production Co: Bad Badger
Length: 89 minutes
Sub-Genre: Monster movie, body horror