Film review of the horror movie about a scientist who creates a man from the remains of dead people, adapted from the novel by Mary Shelley and starring James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe and Jessica Brown Findlay.
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Director: Paul McGuigan. Davis Entertainment/TGS/Moving Picture/20th Century Fox. (12a)
Cast & crew
Producer: John Davis.
Writer: Max Landis.
Camera: Fabian Wagner.
Music: Craig Armstrong.
Sets: Eve Stewart.
Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Jessica Brown Findlay, Freddie Fox, Andrew Scott, Callum Turner, Daniel Mays, Charles Dance, Mark Gattis.
A re-telling of Mary Shelley’s classic, early science fiction novel. Young medical student Victor Frankenstein (McAvoy) rescues a deformed and abused circus clown (Radcliffe) from a vicious circus gang after recognising his keen medical skills and excellent, self-taught anatomical knowledge.
Christened Igor, the story of how Frankenstein’s dangerous experiments with dead bodies finally culminates in him creating a super human, is told through his eyes.
Mary Shelley’s epochal tome on the dangers of man’s scientific reach extending his ethical and religious grasp has been adapted to death long before Boris Karloff lumbered and mumbled onto the big screen for the first time in 1931, a film that was as influential for ensuing horror films as Shelley’s novel was for literature and the wider world.
For some time I have thought that new adaptations of novels like Frankenstein, where previous TV and movie versions have strayed so far from their paper bound origins, would actually make a more thrilling retelling if the filmmakers stuck rigidly to book, remaining utterly faithful to every page committed to screen. What a refreshing surprise that would make.
In this version it is this writer’s contention that Igor, formerly the good doctor’s crippled assistant or general dogsbody, is the real medical genius who can create life, in wicked tandem with Victor’s more scientific mind.
All well and smart sounding so far and there are further neat flips to the storyline. Igor is ‘resurrected’ by Victor from a twisted circus sideshow freak of public derision into an upright and handsome man about town looked on more favourably by those of consequence.
Yet Victor’s skilful hands cannot make the perfect human he desires to help atone for being culpable in his older brother’s death years before. “This is not life!” he yells at his mute, unfeeling, base creation who proceeds to destroy everything around him, unlike Igor, who has the brains to assist and galavanise Victor to success.
The mad men are not just those on the side science, but populate every aspect of society, from the entertainment sector (May’s horrifically abusive circus troupe), the aristocracy (Fox’s fey, power-hungry m’Lord) and even the trusted police (Scott, deranged by love for his long dead wife).
The creature, designed to look like Karloff on steroids, fastened to a surgical gurney as if it were a crucifix, swings helplessly around the crumbling castle, suffering for man’s sins like Christ, although this time around he will spring to life much quicker than the biblical resurrection.
The script even manages some crowd-pleasing one-liners and a horror movie in-joke about the doctor wanting the creature to have a flat-top head because he likes the idea.
There are, however, the usual script errors that cause a critic to roll their eyes. Scott’s demented police inspector, fixated on bringing the doctor bang to rights, becomes interested in his activities and fully briefed on what he’s up to in his mouldering laboratory with suspicious swiftness. Copper’s intuition, I think not.
Radcliffe might have been better off if Igor had been left as deranged and disabled, a la Dwight Frye, as he would have had more freedom to ham it up like McAvoy, Fox and Scott, instead of being a bland accomplice. Like Brown Findlay, he has little colour to his cheeks next to this lip-smacking, panto villainy.
McAvoy’s brawling, drunken, loud mouth Victor blows the cobwebs away from this rather standard piece. Shouty, over the top, gurning, Victor’s monstrous arrogance is slyly parodied and he out hams everyone else with smashing gusto that is to be admired for its energy if not for its precision. This is Victor Frankenstein: Action Hero. Victor Frankenstein: Boxing Champ. Victor Frankenstein: Red Bull Addict.
See the official trailer on Youtube.