A married couple of scientists create a modern-day monster.
I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Given such pervasive cinematic exploitation of the Frankenstein mythos and the “synthetic human and its maker” motif, the mere thought of yet another retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic tale was always going to be received with mixed expectations. Be that as it may, I advise against jumping to any rash conclusions with this one as Bernard Rose’s reworking will send a lightning bolt shock through your system as it’s by far the most sui generis and ambitious take on the classic tale since James Whales’ iconic 1931 film of the same name.
Rose catapults the story to an all too feasible present day/near future setting whilst remaining shrewdly faithful to Shelley’s source material, the first apparent reference being the monster’s name, Adam, with the novel’s monster having referred to himself as “the Adam of your labours.” Shelley’s presence continues to remain apparent throughout in the form of Adam’s internal voice with quotes lifted directly from the book and used as voiceovers – a particularly savvy strategy which helps create a stronger sense of comprehension and identification with Adam as he heads off on this hellish journey of self-discovery. Rose even includes strong allusions to Whale’s legendary film, particularly the infamous scene where Adam throws the girl into the lake – the spark that sends his world spiralling out of control as he is left to run amok.
The re-imagining of the monster’s physical features, on the other hand, deviates somewhat from what we are used to so as to run abreast with today’s technologies: gone is the patchwork skin in favour of a pristine complexion before a sudden outbreak of cancerous blemishes develops – the perfect analogy of a destructive cancer eating away at Adam’s inner and outer self – both physically and, more importantly, psychologically.
The “I am fearless, and therefore powerful” notion also remains intact with Adam’s promethean invincibility adding an intriguing angle to the story. Whilst I personally found this a great tool in terms of modernising the story given today’s presence of firearms, I get the feeling some people may well see this strategy as a betrayal to the source material but it really does provide for a bullet-proof narrative and allows Rose to really play around with the character because otherwise Adam would have lasted literally two minutes in the real world.
When it comes to the performances the standout role, without a doubt, is Xavier Samuel as Adam who perfectly depicts just “how mutable are our feelings” as his acting range is indescribably electric. It was also a pleasure to see Tony Todd (Candyman) reunite with Rose to play Eddie, a blind homeless father figure who does his utmost to guide Adam down the straight and narrow although his efforts ultimately fail to bridle Adam’s inner beast. Also, having a prostitute explain the birds and the bees (in a particularly graphic YouTubian manner) brought some particularly humorous yet ultimately tender and heart wrenching moments to the film. Compliments are also due to Adam’s “parents” with Carrie-Anne Moss playing the sympathetic/apathetic mother to a tee and Danny Huston putting in a mean performance as the ruthlessly thick-skinned monomaniac, Viktor Frankenstein.
Rose also provides one hell of a lot more monstrosity than I expected in terms of bloodshed and gore. Whilst these moments will more than satisfy gorehounds’ appetites, they are fastidiously implemented to accentuate Adam’s innocence and blindness to the dangers and terrors of the world he has been thrust into. Let’s just say you’ll need a strong stomach to get through certain scenes, particularly some of the earlier moments.
In short, despite umpteen Frankenstein remakes, rehashes and adaptations, Rose’s ability to effectively reinvent the wheel for the modern generation, highlighting the perils of frighteningly feasible cloning technologies, speaks volumes for his ability as a filmmaker. This kind of reworking is what keeps Frankenstein’s grotesque yet sentient monster well and truly alive almost 200 years after Shelley’s masterpiece and Rose’s adaptation is certainly tantamount to the original novel’s subtitle as it really is a modern prometheus.
Words: Howard Gorman (@HowardGorman)