Director: Paul McGuigan
Cast: James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott and Charles Dance
Running Time: 110 minutes
Release Date: December 5th
The best versions of the tale of Frankenstein and his creation focus on the relationship between the monster and the man, on the moral question of whether it is right to play God, and oftentimes, if done right, how it must feel to be a newborn abomination. With this in mind, the best Frankenstein movie of 2015 has already come and gone. It was big, it was flashy, and it was called Jurassic World. But for those looking for a more classic take on Mary Shelley’s immortal horror tale, Victor Frankenstein has arrived to whet your appetites.
Directed by Paul McGuigan and written by Max Landis, in this action-horror tale we first meet Daniel Radcliffe’s nameless hunchback working as a circus clown, with side duties as the company’s doctor. Bullied and ostracised, he becomes obsessed with human anatomy, and with a certain beautiful trapeze artist. This drab existence continues until an accident at the circus requires the hunchback’s panicked attention, and catches the eye of a particular circus-goer played by James McAvoy, whose name we learn with a big splash across the screen. In a sequence that is somewhat thrilling but straight out of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein returns later to the circus to break the hunchback out of his captivity. He takes him home, fixes his back in a sequence filled with homoerotic undertones that never entirely abate over the course of the film, feeds him and even gives him the currently unused name of his absent, drug-addict roommate, Igor Straussian.
And while it is certainly Igor’s film, it’s tough not to get swept up in James McAvoy’s mad genius, as dashing and insane and intent on a breakthrough as they come, hamming it up with delight to show how close to the limit of monstrosity he comes. McAvoy seems to be having great fun here, entirely fed up by the inanities of the dimwits around him. He is likable, but a bully, a genius but at times pathetic. Radcliffe too is endearing, and plays a likeable clown turned physician through whom we watch the machinations and decline of his ‘partner’. It is truly his story, and watching him carve a life out for himself could easily have been a lot worse in a lesser modern-action-take-on-a-
Their relationship is believable, and of the strongest aspects of the film, and Radcliffe’s loyalty to the man who freed him and made him whole makes perfect sense, regardless of Frankenstein’s morbid ambitions and unaffectionate nature. Plot-wise, though, it feels unfinished at times. The acts and characters progress satisfyingly logically in the beginning, but uninteresting and pointless antagonists ultimately scupper the whole thing, in such a way that it would have probably been best to throw two of them out (at the unfortunate expense of Charles Dance) and stick with Andrew Scott’s obsessive Christian police officer alone.
When Frankenstein finally learns the lesson common to all films related to his name, it feels a bit unnatural, and though his reaction, without giving too much away, begins almost sympathetic, it ultimately escalates to a point that seems unwarranted. Victor Frankenstein suffers quite a bit from this in fact, decisions being made that don’t really seem to make any logical sense and it culminates in the film’s final showdown. I mean, of course he’s angry, he’s a two-minute old baby twice the size of a man and you keep shooting at him.
Not to give too much away, that is.
There are some clever twists on the old Frankenstein tropes, too, which are a common and enjoyable staple in any franchise nowadays when done right. Little emotional turns on ‘it’s alive!’ and nods to who will be more famous for the Frankenstein name, the man or the monster, are clever and even fun, and fit well into the more entertaining aspects of the tale.
This is one to watch if you leave the room after watching something else and come back in to find it on. It’s at best an enjoyably pleasant surprise, and with James McAvoy’s hammy scientist, the relationship between Victor and Igor, and some entertainingly off-putting body horror, it might not be the worst way to spend the price of a cinema ticket.