Had Bernard Rose directed a Twilight reboot instead of Frankenstein, it probably still would have been better than SX_Tape, his previous found-footage-bombing effort. But instead, he adapted Mary Shelley’s legendary horror tale for a more tech savvy audience, providing a rare update with substance. In the same year Victor Frankenstein cheekily attempted to tentpole its way to creature-feature glory, nonetheless.
Rose elects for a more sophisticated story, turning to scientific advancements that bring a new kind of Frankenstein monster to life. Same concept, same reanimated corpse, but a fresh angle proves that reboots can also be original, despite what most major studios seem to think.
Xavier Samuel stars as a bastard science experiment dreamt up by Viktor Frankenstein (Danny Huston) and his associate, Marie (Carrie-Anne Moss). Less mad scientist, more lab coat technician, Viktor creates life in the name of research. As Marie and Viktor nurture their new project, it becomes obvious that despite physically resembling a strapping young buck, the boy’s brain functions at a newborn’s level.
Everything terrifies the creation, because nothing is known. Marie, who strikes a more emotional connection with her subject, is seen as a mother figure, who shows more affection. Viktor, on the other hand, tries to remain calculated, and data-driven about the situation. But, their victory is cut short when Samuel’s body starts breaking out in boils, showing deterioration as the days go on. Viktor deems the experiment a failure, and elects to kill his monster, but fails, releasing the creature upon an unsuspecting city.
Give Bernard Rose credit, because his Frankenstein differentiates itself early and often. Samuel brings an endearing sophistication to the creature, first through narration and then through dramatic storytelling. We’re led by Samuel’s perception through the whole, grisly ordeal, as the monster discovers pain and suffering around every turn. Angry mobs and neglectful creators steer a once-loved beast towards panicked fury, but there’s something more evocative thanks to Samuel’s profound ability to grasp heartbreaking emotions. Rose finds an updated vision through scientific advances, but it’s Samuel who elevates this decades-old tale from a rigid death pose.
While we’re on topic, why not continue to dissect Samuel’s primitive performance? During early stages, he cuddles for warmth like a newborn baby, suckling on bottles full of nutrient-rich liquid. He grasps the innocence of childhood curiosity, and then twists it into gut-wrenching, lonely pain when society reveals its true, ugly nature. But this evolution comes not through grunts or lurches – Samuel’s monster can articulate well-advanced musings of tragic abandonment, which shape his transformation into a more personified Frankenstein monster. Scabs and scars strip away his soft-skinned prettiness, and there’s no neck bolts, but he’s still a creature worth fearing – he just happens to be a version with a little more personality.
Carrie-Anne Moss and Danny Huston portray the well-intending creators of Samuel’s monster, with Moss bringing more depth to an already familial story. By connecting with her experiment through motherly protection, she’s able to inflict more damage that Samuel converts into dark hatred. Huston, on the other hand, is more a placeholder scientist with a famous name, but his chemistry with Moss works on a base-value level. Neither can match Tony Todd though as a blues-jamming blind beggar who teaches “Monster” valuable street lessons, including communication through language. This opens up “Monster’s” ability to be less creature, and more man, really driving home a human story about loveless despair.
Sophistication is what separates Samuel’s Franken-persona from more barbaric portrayals, but that doesn’t mean Rose shies away from violence. Like a mentally stunted adult might act, Samuel does not understand his strength, and engages in some vicious bouts of aggression. When his canine companion is slain, Samuel lashes out, pulverizing the murderer’s face. This particular instance is slighted by CGI splatters of red, but an opening act in which Samuel gets his hand on a bonesaw is particularly gruesome (like, digging-through-brains gruesome). Since it’s at such an early stage in Sameul’s conception, he thinks he’s just playing, as death continues to be a concept he struggles to understand. Does that make him a monster, or just misunderstood?
As far as adapting Mary Shelley’s story goes, Bernard Rose’s Frankenstein covers all the hallmarks. A creature is created, he escapes Frankenstein’s captivity, encounters an innocent little girl, is chased by a mob, finds a friend in a blind man, and eventually returns to confront his master(s). But, 3D printing technology and cell creation sciences replace grimy grave digging, and the monster himself is given a more engaging voice. For these reasons alone, Rose validates his reboot with a fresh, new-car smell, and he guides his retelling well enough to ignore more over-characterized moments where having the monster of old would have done just fine.
Who cares about “fine,” though – Rose makes a statement about evolving the horror genre in parallel with society’s advancement, and does so with integrity. It won’t rewrite history, but it subverts the Frankenstein storyline in Rose’s own, unique way. This is what filmmakers who “reboot” should strive to do, so let’s hope future rebooters take note. For the sake of originality.
Bernard Rose's Frankenstein reboot is a welcome update to Shelley's long-remade classic, adapting old themes to a new, more tech savvy reality.