Sunday, May 19, 2013

Icy May: The Frankenstein Theory (2013)

We agents of M.O.S.S. defy your oppressive assumptions about seasons in the northern hemisphere. To prove you (yes you!) wrong, May will be all about ice, snow and everything cold for us. Everything is better in winter, after all. Mary Shelley knew that, too.

Delightfully named scientist Jonathan Venkenheim (Kris Lemche) hires the documentary film crew around Vicky (Heather Stephens), an old school friend of his, to accompany him on an expedition to the Canadian Northwest Territories (channelled by Alaska, which is one of the unsung acting heroes of the age), where he plans to finally prove the truth of the great obsession of his life. The footage we watch is of course what the documentary crew shot.

Jonathan is convinced his great-grandfather was the template for Mary Shelley's Doctor Frankenstein, her novel a fictionalized account of true experiments which actually resulted in a creature that has been roaming the arctic circle ever since it finally killed its creator.
Jonathan even has some documentary proof for parts of his theory (like the original Walton letters as per the beginning of the novel, or a photograph of his great-granddad's laboratory), but his ideas are still too outrageous to be taken seriously. For no good reason, the film also puts the Illuminati (in their version of "invisible college of enlightened scientists") into the background of the story without any dramatic need or follow-through.

Jonathan is pretty sure he knows where the monster is now, and is convinced that people will finally believe him when he manages to get evidence of the creature on film. Unfortunately, he only tells his documentarian companions how he came to the conclusion when he, they, and local guide Carl are already in a yurt in the middle of nowhere. Jonathan, you see, has traced the monster via anomalous spikes in unsolved murders and unexplained disappearances in parts of the Arctic, so the project is rather more dangerous than particularly the team's soundman and cameraman (both whiners at the best of times) have assumed.
Jonathan's right on the money too, for something rather private, angry, and murderous stalks the area; something that really doesn't approve of visitors at all.

"From the creators of The Last Exorcism", threatens the cover, but in truth, neither director/writer Andrew Weiner nor co-writer Vlady Pildysh have their names in that particular train wreck's credits. It's a producer thing, so you can ignore it without getting hurt. I am, of course, awfully sorry if I've hurt the feelings of any producer of anything reading this. However, if you're one of the producers doing things like pretending to be the main creative force behind a successful film even though you're not, it's your own damn fault.

As a found footage movie, The Frankenstein Theory doesn't follow either of the two big schools of the sub-genre: there's no climactic run through the woods, most of the film takes place in daylight so it can show more of the awesome cold desolation it occurs in, and even the character bickering seems rather better placed and believable as usual.

Once you make a horror film which takes place in ice and snow, you are already halfway into my heart, so it's not that much of a surprise that I find Weiner's film rather impressive. There's something about the mixture of beauty and deadliness of snowy landscapes, and the echoes of the age of Arctic exploration (and its sense of futility) it carries that resonates with me on a very personal level. It's also not a landscape used very much in the found footage genre - probably because you either need to live in Alaska or have an actual budget to make use of it - and provides the film with an easy, yet deserved originality bonus.

Plus, there aren't really all that many found footage movies, or movies of any kind, that aren't just playing with elements of a novel but seem actually written by somebody who has read said novel. Frankenstein Theory's script does of course play fast and loose with the elements of Mary Shelley's novel it chooses - friends of the book will probably find turning the Creature into an actual monster problematic, though I think you can explain his rather unenlightened behaviour with a shitty personal past and the fact that it has lived as isolated from humanity as possible for a hundred-and-fifty years, which isn't the sort of thing that'll make somebody with anger management issues much friendlier, I suppose - but that's really rather what literary sources as canonical yet comparatively seldom read as Shelley's book are there for.

If I want to read Frankenstein as imagined by Mary Shelley, I grab her book, if I want to watch a movie cross-breeding elements of her book with the found footage genre in awe-inspiring landscapes, then The Frankenstein Theory seems to be the ticket.

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