The Blair Frankenstein Project
A Journalistic Film Review of The Frankenstein Theory
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth
We’ve seen ghosts, demons, serial killers and even superheroes constructed into the found footage film genre, but now, classic horror icons are coming to the big screen. Since 1999’s, The Blair Witch Project, found footage films have become a lucrative and relevant genre. There’s an overabundance of these kinds of films, which means we’re bound to get a few stinkers here and there. Fortunately, The Frankenstein Theory is one of the best found footage films I’ve seen in a long while.
At first glance, the premise may sound a tad silly, but suspending disbelief is a required part of being an audience member. This film presents the idea, or, “theory”, that Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Frankenstein, was inspired by true events. What’s more interesting, is that Frankenstein’s monster is still alive in modern times. The protagonist, Jonathan Venkenhein, is a twenty-something college student, who has abandoned his academic obligations to pursue his search for the monster. He is convinced that he is a descendant of the fictionalized, Victor Frankenstein, after he stumbles across a series of letters and journals. These documents contain outlines for the creatures design, which are all signed by a distant relative. Through vigorous research, Jonathan believes that the creature is surviving in the Canadian tundra. He puts together a small film crew to document the voyage and they eagerly set off to find the creature.
The first mistake most found footage films make is in the acting. To sell the realism and visceral tone of the story, filmmakers tend to cast unknowns. Having big stars in the film would diminish any sense of realism. Unfortunately, unknowns usually have little to no acting experience. Here, first-time director, Andrew Weiner, found hungry and exceptionally talented actors. Kris Lemche, who plays Jonathan, carries the film by adding a surprising amount of weight to his character. I believed in his theory through his honest performance and liked him enough to care when danger threatened his life. The character of the main film producer played by, Heather Stephens, acted as a good balance to Jonathan’s stubborn ambition. She served as the voice of the audience, or voice of reason. Many times, Jonathan would become blinded by the dangers around him and Stephens’ character would bring him back to his senses. Comedic relief comes in the form of a goofy camera operator and a sarcastic sound man. usually, this kind of formulaic trope would get on my nerves, but because the writing is so strong, these characters are given some very clever dialogue. There are moments when a character makes senseless decisions to move the plot in a certain direction and it does become a pattern. Luckily, the characters are likeable enough that it’s not too distracting. Nothing in the film is award worthy acting, but it’s a very large step beyond most horror films.
Part of what makes this film interesting, is how it incorporates themes from Mary Shelley’s classic, Frankenstein. Jonathan’s focused but reckless attitude largely echoes the character of Victor Frankenstein. Victor goes to great lengths to achieve his ambitious goals and in the process, bad things happen to him. Because of his creation and his irresponsible handling of it, most of his family is killed. Also, while Victor is creating his creature, he cuts ties with many people close to him during his isolated sessions. Jonathan does this as well, as he neglects his girlfriend and her emotional needs so that hey may further his research. While I will not spoil the misfortunes that fall upon Jonathan, I can say that because of the character defects that both, Victor and Jonathan share, bad things happen to him. At the end of the novel, it is not confirmed that Frankenstein’s creature is dead. The creature claims that he will burn himself, but it is never revealed what happens to the creature after Victor dies. The film’s explanation of why the creature still exists is pretty plausible. Jonathan draws connections between various missing people in populated areas surrounding the tundra in Canada. Following a pattern, he notices an increase in missing people during specific seasons. This is how he gets a general idea of where the creature is. The filmmakers could have ignored details like this and chalked it up to the fact that it’s “just” a horror film, but the script is much sharper than I expected. I would have liked to see even more connections made to the novel, but the fact that they even attempted to tie anything in is impressive.
In today’s film climate of computer generated effects, practical effects have taken a backseat. I, Frankenstein, Van Helsing, remakes of The Mummy and The Wolfman have all relied on digital effects. I’m not opposed to this type of effect, but it’s a tool that gets used too much these days and it’s a hard task to utilize effectively. The Frankenstein Theory, exclusively uses practical effects. The creature looks real because it’s a guy in a suit, with decent makeup applied to the face mask. It’s minimalistic, but it works. The tension and fear of the film rests with the concept of less is more. Much like the 1979 film, Alien, you don’t see the creature very much. You’ll catch glimpses in the background, see the aftermath of the creature’s destruction, and hear growls and brutish sound effects. Towards the end of the film, the creature is revealed in full form and it’s not as terrifying as you might expect, but it’s the buildup that makes the film fun to watch. Ultimately, the effective buildup, tension and sound effects make The Frankenstein Theory a worthy found footage horror film.
Throughout the last 15 years, there have been more found footage films than I can keep track of. Many of them fall into bargain bins or are just forgotten entirely and it takes more than a shaky camera and scared actors to stand out today. Fortunately, The Frankenstein Theory, while not without its problems, managed to keep my attention throughout and it offers a fresh take on an overcrowded genre.
Image provided by Amazon.com. http://www.amazon.com/The-Frankenstein-Theory-Kris-Lemche/dp/B00AJXO5I6
The Frankenstein Theory. Dir. Andrew Weiner. Image Entertainment, 2013. DVD.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, Frankenstein. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007. Print.