Frankenstein Theory (2013)
Dir. Andrew Weiner
Written by Vlady Pildysh, Andrew Weiner
Starring Kris Lemche, Heather Stephens, Brian Henderson, Eric Zuckerman, Timothy V. Murphy
THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY is a particularly dull found-footage clusterfuck, even by the woefully low standards we usually set for such things. Like most found-footage films, it lurches around treading water for nearly the entire runtime, wallowing in painfully banal conversations and tedious setup before finally getting around to some horror payoff. But unlike most found-footage films, here the payoff never actually happens at all, it just sort of lurches to an end without delivering any goods whatsoever. Everything even remotely interesting happens off-camera. It might as well be a radio drama, except that no human would ever listen to this crappy dialogue for an agonizing 87 minutes.
There are a few decent things here. For one, the premise at least is pretty cool: young professor Jonathan Venkenheim (Kris Lemche, FINAL DESTINATION 3) discovers old letters in his family’s archives which are identical to the ones which open Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Turns out Shelley fictionalized the book from those letters, but the main characters were all real! This was before the days where things were based on a true story, so everyone just assumed it was all made up. But now we know for sure unambiguously that it wasn’t, these are real paper letters, they prove it, case closed. But for some reason the Ivory Tower eggheads from Venkenheim’s university don’t see it the same way, they think he’s nuts and demand some kind of proof for his perfectly logical theory that his great great great grandfather genetically engineered an immoral supermonster by combining human DNA with turtles and birds back in the late 1700s. “Fuck Mendel,” he argues with the film’s characteristic eloquence, but for some reason they still insist on some kind of proof, so he decides that he’ll head over to the Canadian Tundra with a film crew and find the creature for himself. If Canada seems like an odd place to look for Frankenstein’s monster, don’t blame me, I’m just reporting what I saw.
|Oh man, this is really going to yurt.|
Well, I think we can all see the logic of taking a snowmobile and two cameras up into the combined 1,200,000 square miles of frozen, isolated Northeastern Canada in search of an elusive monster who’s managed to stay hidden for the last two hundred years. But unfortunately for Venkenheim (and for us), he’s taken along the lamest, whiniest film crew this side of CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, and at least they had the excuse that they were theater actors and couldn’t really be expected to know better. Vicky, our director here, looks a little like Jessica Chastain (she’s played by Heather Stephens, “Lanie” from LOST HIGHWAY and “Hot Springs Woman” from DANTE’S PEAK) and mostly tolerable, but their sound guy and producer are just insufferable babies about the whole thing. They just make lame jokes (one guy laughs over giving his friend a wet willie for an uninterrupted minute and a half) and bitch and moan about how crappy this job is, over and over, for the whole movie, until you’re seriously considering that it might be worth leaving civilization forever to escape from them. Fortunately they’re somewhat offset by their Canadian guide, Karl (Timothy V. Murphy, bit parts in LONE RANGER and APALOOSA, plus an episode of V.I.P!) a real hardass type with a genuine charisma to him, boy, they oughtta put him in a real movie someday.
It’s kinda tragic, actually, because Lemche, Stephens, and Murphy are all good performers, and are given characters who might even have been interesting in a better movie.* Unfortunately the stupid found footage gimmick means that in place of narrative, we must have “realism” and hence can’t expect character arcs or growth, or expect them to have interesting/literate/intelligible conversations, or anything that might actually take these characters and turn their experience into a story, rather than a long dull incident. I definitely think a good movie could have been made with this concept. The Alaskan wilderness (subbing for for Canada because it was cheaper to shoot there, when does that ever happen??) is gorgeous, and one can easily imagine a horror movie milking some genuine paranoia from the extreme conditions and isolation. It’s kind of a cool idea that Frankenstein’s monster could still be alive somewhere, 200 years later. What would he be like by then, what has he been doing all this time?
|Certified hardass, in the Lance Henriksen role of somehow maintaining dignity in the midst of total shit.|
But alas, this is not the movie to make that magic happen. The found footage angle means that rather than an engaging story or interesting characters, it’s just a bunch of pointless banal arguments and footage of people’s backs. These characters can’t evolve or engage in any narrative drama, they’re just sitting around waiting to finally be killed at the very end (not nearly soon enough). Moreover, the shitty camerawork erases any hint of atmosphere, they can’t use music or editing to evoke tension, the dialogue is lame, and can we agree once and for all to retire the idea that long green night vision sequences have any place in a commercial film produced by adults? Thank you.
Most tragic of all, though, is that they completely waste the essential concept here -- the fact that it’s Frankenstein’s monster out there ends up having exactly zero bearing on anything. Not only do we only get the most fleeting look at it (it’s a big guy dressed in rags, so he looks kind of like Sweetums from the Muppets), but it just skulks around their tent roaring and killing people bloodlessly off camera. I mean, it might as well be a bear or a Bigfoot (in fact, for all we see of the creature it might very well be a bigfoot) for all the concept ends up paying off. Horror fans are used to dealing with crappy acting, unfocused plotting, amateurish production work. But when you bungle all that and get all coy about delivering the genre goods… well, what the fuck is left? You’ve literally removed every single element of cinema that might be enjoyable to someone.** This is one lousy theory, this Frankenstein theory, and now we have the experimental data to prove it.
*Director Anthony Weiner hasn’t directed any other films, but he was casting director for TROMEO AND JULIET. So that makes him the second best big leagues alumni from that movie this year, as well as a true American hero. But maybe he should stick to casting, he seems to have a better knack for that than putting those casts into action.
**It’s about at the level of one of those stupid fauxumentary monster shows on cable. But at least those are only 45 minutes with commercials -- this is twice that long, and somehow even more uneventful.