Wednesday, October 30, 2013

In short: Frankenstein's Army (2013)

At the tail-end of World War II, a small squad of Russian soldiers is traipsing through Eastern Germany, all the while filmed by Dimitri (Alexander Mercury), a man in the process of making a propaganda movie that'll make Stalin happy, and that, of course, is providing the footage we are watching. The soldiers catch an emergency broadcast of other Russian troops and make their way to a small village seeking to help their comrades out.

Unexpectedly, the village is mad science central, and soon enough, the soldiers have to fight off rather lively and aggressive dead people with various metal parts screwed onto them. The situation doesn't improve when it turns out that one of them has kept some rather crucial information from them, and they can't just do what any sane person confronted with the kinds of grotesque nightmares they encounter would do and just run. And that's even before they meet the creatures' creator (Karel Roden), who comes from a long line of mad scientists.

Said grotesque nightmares really are the core joy of Richard Raaphorst's fine piece of low budget horror. Frankenstein's soldiers are created with such an obvious joy and love of detail, as well as a demonstrating such a good working idea of craziness, that I'm perfectly okay with how simple Frankenstein's Army's plot and characters are, and how "no shit, Sherlock" - though perfectly fitting the material - its theme (humanity is a horrible, self-destructive species; totalitarianism is the highest and most horrible expression of these urges, and look how horrible we truly are) is. We are, after all, here to watch bloody violence and improbable creatures (personal favourite: slug guy or the poor creature with an airplane propeller for a head), as long as the film gives us a tiny reason to watch them. For once, talking about "grand guignol" style filmmaking seems like absolutely correct terminology for a movie.

The film's POV stylings aren't truly believable but are realized with a love for detail comparable to that of the creature designs. While I don't buy the whole set-up at all - even after the mandatory plot twist - Raaphorst puts a lot of actual effort in to add visual artefacts appropriate to the era without ever going so overboard with them they become annoying. When it comes to the staging of scenes, the director generally prefers the effective or atmospheric shot to the believably in character, something which may annoy people who want their POV films to be "realistic" but which is an approach I prefer when used as it is here - to make the movie a more effective horror film. This also leads to Frankenstein's Army being one of the increasing number of POV horror movies where you get a good look at everything you'd care to see (and some things you rather didn't).

The film's final joy is veteran actor (seldom seemed that phrase more fitting) Karel Roden's absolutely unhinged performance as the film's big name mad scientist. It's not just a perfect bit of scenery chewing but really the only way the man who created the things we see throughout the film could have been played - not as a realistic mentally ill man, but a raving lunatic with tendencies to mock politeness.

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