March 1, 2013 (limited theatrical)
Kris Lemche as Professor John Venkenheim
Heather Stephens as Vicky
Brian Henderson as Kevin
Thus far 2013 is not looking very promising for the horror genre. We at BHM are still holding out hope it will improve – possibly significantly – with the Evil Dead and Carrie remakes respectively. But early disappointments from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D and The Last Exorcism 2 have soured the mood somewhat. There was not much anticipation for the The Frankenstein Theory, but it will sadly join the list of disappointments. Given the potential it had to resurrect floundering interest in one of horror’s earliest giants, the squandered opportunity by Director Andrew Weiner is lamentable indeed.
The mysterious Venkenheim was the subject of a series of letters to Mary Shelley that gave her the idea for Frankenstein in the 19th century. Yet he also wrote a series of letters to family, chronicling his successful real-to-life reanimation of a corpse in the remote Canadian wilderness. Unfortunately, he burned all the evidence of his work – save those letters – after his experiment ran amok. His descendent, Professor John Venkenheim of UCLA, seeks to prove the monster actually existed and remains alive today. He sets out with a documentary film crew to track down the elusive creature in the middle of the frigid Northwest Territory. Despite howling wolves, the expedition proceeds without incident until the party’s snowmobiles are vandalized and their guide disappears. Is the monster real, or is a bear stalking them? Can they discover the truth before it destroys them, or will they freeze to death?
Like most found-footage films, The Frankenstein Theory is slow to start, yet this one is also slow to climax – the kind of film that leaves you checking your watch or wondering what else there is to eat. Yet, even slow burns can end up being decent flicks, provided the scares, gore and outcome are worth the wait. Unfortunately, the outcome is predictable. The story goes exactly where you would expect it to go and needlessly takes its time on the way. What’s worse is that there are no scares and no gore to enjoy on this very tedious journey. The audience is completely excluded from the most intense parts of the story – including several brutal killings – and only left to view the emotions afterwards. While this may be more realistic from a ‘found footage’ perspective, it does not make for good entertainment. Many other decent found footage movies have found a way around this obstacle, or combined found footage with traditional narrative perspective for a more compelling presentation. Director Weiner failed to apply such lessons and the viewer must suffer for his mistake.
In the end, the story degenerates into a film crew struggling to survive in the frigid wilderness – not sure where to go, or what to do next, but increasingly convinced that something is stalking them. In other words – The Blair Witch Project with Snow. Although another found footage film executed as well as The Blair Witch Project (1999) would be welcome, the execution in this one is poor and even awkward at times.
Yet, not everything is terrible. Despite the abysmal directing, the acting isn’t half-bad and the snow-covered country is beautiful. However, even the scenery is a little irritating, since the film crew is supposed to be in the middle of the Northwest Territory – a very FLAT area – but they are surrounded by mountains and hills.
But the poor execution – devoid of scares, gore and a satisfying outcome – is almost a footnote in many ways. What really makes The Frankenstein Theory a truly wretched viewing experience is knowing that a great opportunity was lost. The plot kernel – about the original Frankenstein being actually based on a true-to-life manmade monster – is actually a gem. In the right hands, it would have been capable of rekindling interest in one of the founding monsters of the horror genre and beginning a whole new series of movies, novels and even video games based on this newalternate Frankenstein creature. Such a pity.