Frankenstein and his Monster have been an enduring feature of the horror genre since their inception almost 200 years ago, and yet despite their constant presence, the number of times that their depiction has had any merit has been pitifully low. Yes I am looking at you Victor Frankenstein and Daniel Radcliffe. How two films that came out at the same time based on the same source source material can be so polar opposite in quality is beyond me.
Where Victor Frankenstein is a garish mesh of loud bangs and idiotic action scenes, Bernard Rose's Frankenstein, is a clever, powerful and underplayed masterpiece that leaves the viewer in a state of shock.
Frankenstein is a faithful and intelligent reworking of Mary Shelly's source material. The story has been updated to modern day Los Angeles, with the stitched together, lightening birthed monster so beloved by practically every other adaptation, replaced with a 3D printed version of Adam. Thanks to this process Adam should be "Human 2.1" faster stronger and more intelligent than the human template that he is based on.
Like all newborn babies Adam just wants a parental figure to look after him and love him, he initially gets this from Elizabeth, played with icy coldness by Carrie Anne Moss, but when Adam starts to show signs of cancerous growths, his creator Victor decides to terminate his existence and start all over again. However the termination doesn't go to plan and Adam escapes into the world to experience the true nature of humanity from unique perspective.
What follows is one of the most honest and true adaptations of the genres finest and most enduring stories. This is an unrelenting film, the savagery and hatred that Adam encounters from the so called civilised world is chilling. He is an outcast in every sense of the world, deformed. outwardly mentally slow, he cannot find his place in the world, all he wants is to be accepted and loved. And all he encounters is brutal beatings, yellings and vile hatred from us.
While the film takes a unique and special take on the source material, it also remains faithful to both the book and some of the earlier film adaptations, in particular James Whale's Frankenstein. That infamous scene with the little girl and the poo sticks, is recreated in spectacular style, and despite that fact that we have seen this scene dozen if not hundreds of times before, it will still have you on the edge of your seat, with your levels of panic and fear rising to a crescendo.
The following scene where Adam is relentlessly beaten by an angry mob, is perhaps the most shocking scene in the film. The brutality and animalistic nature of the mob and the beating that they deal out to Adam is heartbreaking. He doesn't fight back, he takes what they give out with no hint of anger or will to fight back. It is as though he cannot believe that we are capable of such things, and the bemused look on face when the first couple of strikes are delivered is chilling. This is the turning point for Adam, from here on in thanks to the shouts from the mob, he is no longer Adam, he has become the monster, not only in our eyes, but in his own eyes.
However, the rejection by our society of The Monster pales into insignificance when measured against the cold and calculated rejection shown by his "mother" when she is called in to identify him after he has been brought into police custody. This is an emotionally crippling scene that have your forcing back the tears. The utter disdain in her voice and mannerisms is powerfully mirrored by the frantic and desperate pleas from Adam. His screams of "mother" will resonate deep into your soul.
After another failed execution, this time at the hands of some nasty police officers, The Monster finally finds some solace in the arms of a blind beggar, brilliantly played by Tony Todd. Unhindered by any preconceptions brought on by sight, the blind beggar takes the monster under his wings and looks out for him, and even forms a friendship with him. There is a wonderful shot of the pair of them walking away side by side, where The Monster reaches out and holds The Beggars hand. It is subtle yet beautiful counterpoint to ugliness and brutality of the rest of the film.
Things look as though they are looking up for the Monster until an ill fated encounter with hooker, where the Monsters desire and need to be loved results in her accidental death. Heartbroken and confused he finally decides to seek out his makers.
When he finds out that they have begun creation of a new Adam, the Monster finally shows us that he is as human as the rest of us and in a rage filled moment he attacks the partially formed new Adam in a fit of jealousy. It is in the aftermath of this that his mother finally thaws ands shows him some real compassion, however it is a bittersweet moment that leads us into the powerful and emotive final scene.
Frankenstein is a triumph, it is one of those films that transcends the general perceived misconceptions of what the public thinks a horror movie is. This isn't a film about scares and shocks, it is a film that looks at the brutal nature of our society. And, despite how much we like think we have travelled in terms of compassion and understanding of those unlike us, we really are only ever one small step step from angry mob rule. It shows that we still aren't understanding or caring about those who don't fit into a nice perfect definition of humanity. Bernard Rose could easily strip away the trappings and dressings of the genre and the source material and replace the monster with any one of a hundred classes of people that don't quite fit in and still be left with a powerful movie. This version of Frankenstein is a metaphor for our own failings as a society and how we treat those different to us.
This is a brutal film, and is filled with some very shocking, violent and bloody scenes, and yet this isn’t a film that goes for the cheap jump scare, a fact that is enforced by the complete absence of a jump scare based score. In fact the film almost has no score, the subtle and barely their use of incidental music is inspired, it and when combined with the clinical desaturation of the film’s colour palette gives the film an almost dream like quality. In many ways this film reminds me of Under The Skin in terms of look and feel. And like Under The Skin, Frankenstein is a film that treats the viewers with respect and intelligence.
By telling the film from the complete viewpoint of Adam / The Monster is an inspired move, it allows us to witness the world from the childlike minds eye of Adam, we feel his struggle to communicate his needs to those around him, a fact that is highlighted by the films uses of eloquent internal dialogue from Adam, there was always a chance that this wouldn’t work on film, but Rose has managed to incorporate these dialogues from the book perfectly into the film and the enhance the feeling of isolation that Adam feels.
This is perhaps the most accomplished adaptation of Mary Shelly’s masterpiece since James Whale’s classic version. It manages to stay true to its source material while bringing something unique to the table at the same time. With an inspired cast, strong direction and a perfect portrayal of the monster by Xavier Samuel, Bernard Rose’s Frankenstein is a true masterpiece of film making.