The post-modern Prometheus
Classic literary works like Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein will stand up to all kinds of interpretation. James Whale’s 1931 film classic went wildly off-book to define cinema’s long relationship with the text, and the past few years alone have seen adaptations both faithful (Danny Boyle’s stage version, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating roles) and freestyle (I, Frankenstein, Penny Dreadful’s heady stew, Paul McGuigan’s Victor Frankenstein); even Ex Machina could be seen as an AI-themed retelling of the Frankenstein story. Now Bernard Rose adds to the crowded canon with a modern variation, in which married research scientists Victor (Danny Huston) and Marie (Carrie-Ann Moss, seen recently in Jessica Jones) genetically engineer a human being using something like a 3D printer.
At first, the creature is like a helpless newborn, albeit with the body of a grown man (and, as played by Xavier Samuel, male model looks – at least, for a while), mewling and puking and able only to articulate pre-linguistic sounds. The Frankensteins celebrate their creation, but when a growth appears on his neck (not, as you might expect, a nascent bolt), signalling a genetic deterioration, they reluctantly – albeit clinically – agree that he must be put down. Of course, the creature has other ideas – and that’s when all hell, as they say, breaks loose.
Thus begins an odyssey, loosely following the plot of Shelley’s novel, in which the wretched creature ventures into the world of men, encountering xenophobic brutality wherever he turns. Virtually the only kindness he is shown is that of Eddie (Tony Todd, star of Rose’s 1992 Clive Barker adaptation Candyman), a blind musician he meets on the road, who misguidedly introduces him to street prostitute Wanda (Maya Erskine) who shows him where babies come from – or are supposed to. With dread inevitability, the creature’s journey will ultimately take him back to meet his makers, with predictably tragic consequences.
What an interesting filmmaker Rose has become in recent years, often in collaboration with Huston, who appeared in Ivansxtc, The Kreutzer Sonata, 2 Jacks and Boxing Day. Although Rose’s contributions to the horror genre are few and far between – you’ve probably seen Candyman, but if you haven’t seen Paperhouse (1988), I would urge you to track it down – with Frankenstein he has successfully combined his understanding of the genre with his own art house sensibilities for a 21st century take on Mary Shelley’s classic gothic horror that stands as an interesting counterpoint to the many other recent adaptations, and proving once again that Shelley’s nearly 200-year-old creation can take many forms.
Frankenstein is released in the UK on February 22