Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of my all-time favorite novels, which is a good thing when you consider the massive amount of film adaptations that continue to be released, year after year. The latest in this long line of Frankenstein movies, however, is an unexpected low-budget gem helmed by Candyman director Bernard Rose. Rarely have we seen the Modern Prometheus translated so earnestly on the big screen.
Frankenstein takes place in modern times, following Xavier Samuel as Adam, a flawed artificial life-form created by Doctors Mary and Viktor Frankenstein (Carrie-Anne Moss and Danny Houston) in a secret research facility. When his creators reluctantly decide to euthanize him due to uncontrollable side effects, Adam manages to escape the facility, and must attempt to survive the cruelty of human society while living as a deformed outcast.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” was certainly the motto behind adapting this classic tale to modern day, as only superficial details have been updated in Rose’s retelling, although the movie now focuses almost exclusively on the monster’s side of the story, and not his creators’. Shelley’s storytelling proves to be just as powerful in a contemporary metropolis as it is in gothic castles, and Bernard uses that to his advantage with his directing, playing with our expectations and transforming this familiar story into a thrilling character piece.
There is a certain lack of polish present in the picture due to the low-budget nature of the production, but Frankenstein more than makes up for it with a phenomenal cast and well-written characters. Xavier Samuel does a great job of incarnating an innocent, childlike soul that is slowly being corrupted, and Moss and Houston are brilliantly cast as godlike parental figures, whose presence is felt even when they’re absent from the screen. Mary’s relationship with Adam manages to be both creepy and compelling at all times, resulting in some of the best moments in the film, not to mention Adam’s interaction with Tony Todd as a down-on-his-luck blind homeless man that decides to help this monster on his journey.
While some might complain that the lack of lavish set-pieces or gothic imagery makes the film feel small and simplistic, that was possibly Bernard’s smartest move. Emphasis on spectacle over story has ruined many adaptations of Shelley’s work in the past, like last year’s ill-fated Victor Frankenstein, or even the dreadful I, Frankenstein. The scope here is certainly not as big as in some previous versions, but the story is still deep enough to stand on its own. The only gripe I have is the monster’s rather uninteresting design, although it is justified within the movie.
Xavier Samuels may not be the next Boris Karloff, but Frankenstein is certainly one of the best attempts at bringing the story to life from a new point of view without sacrificing any of the original themes. We may still see better adaptations in the future, but hopefully they’ll learn from Bernard Rose and give up on trying to turn one of the best works of horror fiction into soulless action movies. If you’re a fan of the original story or just in the mood for some stellar storytelling, give this one a shot.