His moniker may be in the title, but Victor Frankenstein barely figures in this modern take on the classic tale, helmed by Candyman director Bernard Rose. His monster takes top billing, more concerned with his rejection by his mother, Victor’s wife – a neat twist on the mommy issues found in Shelley’s original novel.
Modernity gets you a monster grown in Victor’s lab, mobile phones, police brutality and hookers, but the story’s heart and soul remains essentially faithful to the source material. It cherry picks elements from the book and subsequent adaptations, repurposing them for our times. “It’s alive!” Victor Frankenstein (Danny Huston) cheers in the film’s opening moments. From there, it’s not long before the experiment falls apart and Victor attempts to dispose of his creation like yesterday’s rubbish, strangling the poor kid (Xavier Samuel) out on a gurney while de facto mother Marie (Carrie-Anne Moss) watches reluctantly. But like a more depressed, thankfully silent Deadpool (give or take an engagingly loquacious narration), this monster possesses a mean healing factor, leaving him a very difficult man to kill.
The Monster’s befriending of a friendly stray dog is a portent for terrible things to come; Frankenstein is one of the most upsetting horror films ever made, sending poor Monster lurching from one awful tragedy to the next. Leave it to Bernard Rose to make the iconic little girl by the lake sequence even more traumatic than it already, inherently is. Next up on the Frankenstein’s Monster checklist is the blind old man, beautifully played by genre legend Tony Todd. It’s the erstwhile Candyman who takes Monster under his wing, teaching him how to speak and not to eat rats from the dumpster. He provides a little much-needed levity too, although one does spend the whole time waiting for the other boot to drop and for Monster to be hit with his next dose of inevitable heartbreak.
And heartbreak there is in spades. Frankenstein is an intensely violent and gory film, but it’s the emotion that’ll stick with you, thanks to a perfectly judged performance from Samuel. Moss and Huston do a lot with little screentime, hitting just the right notes of sympathetic and awful before it’s time for Monster’s escape. If it weren’t for Todd, Moss would steal the show – but he is indeed in it, and it’s his best role and performance since he first wore the hook and the bees all those years ago. It peters out somewhat by the end - where the relative fidelity to its source material finally starts to weigh the story down – but one can only be so angry and tortured for so long.
Frankenstein is a triumph – one of the best adaptations of the story ever made, one of the best Tony Todd performances ever seen, and a film as devastating as it is beautiful. And it is plenty beautiful.
FRANKENSTEIN / CERT:18 / DIRECTOR: BERNARD ROSE / SCREENPLAY: BERNARD ROSE / STARRING: XAVIER SAMUEL, DANNY HUSTON, CARRIE-ANN MOSS, TONY TODD / RELEASE DATE: 22ND FEBRUARY