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Wednesday, March 13, 2013


What if the story of the Frankenstein Monster were true, with Mary Shelley's novel being a semi-fictionalized account of actual events?  And what if a modern-day descendant of Dr. "Venkenheim", the Monster's creator, set out to find the still-living creature in the frozen Arctic where it disappeared at the end of the original story? 

THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY (2013) adopts the old "found footage" approach made famous by THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, among an ever-increasing number of similar films (ATROCIOUS, EVIL THINGS), to answer these questions.  Whether it does so to your satisfaction will depend on your own tolerance for this particular style of storytelling.  Those who sat through BLAIR WITCH wondering what the big deal was will probably find even less to sustain interest here; for others, however, this may turn out to be one of the more unsettling films they'll see this year.

Kris Lemche does an okay if not particularly realistic job as the perpetual bundle of nervous energy, Jonathan Venkenheim, who hires a rather reluctant film crew to accompany him on his trek into the Arctic wilderness.  Neither aspiring journalist Vicky (Heather Stephens) nor irreverent and often immature cameramen Brian, Eric, and Luke take Jonathan's "Monster" story seriously for a second, but she needs the career boost and they need the money.  So before long they find themselves way, way out of their element in the harsh wilds of the Yukon. 

Rough, tough wilderness guide Karl (Timothy V. Murphy, possibly the best actor of the bunch) leads their snowmobile convoy to a remote shack (known as a "yurt") where they seek shelter from the freezing cold while getting to know each other.  Karl, it turns out, is a bit like "Quint" from JAWS, an experienced but slightly nutty outdoorsman leading a group of amateurs into danger.  He even gets to do his version of Quint's "Indianapolis" story around the fire, only instead of sharks, it's about a hungry polar bear terrorizing the survivors of a plane crash. 

It's roughly around this point that I began to wonder if anything was actually going to happen during THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY.  Was there really a Frankenstein Monster lurking around out there in the icy shadows, or had the flaky Venkenheim simply led them all into yet another "predicament" thriller (a la BLACK WATER, THE REEF, and FROZEN)?  With the mysterious destruction of all but one of their snowmobiles during the night and the seemingly hopeless attempt of one of the crew to go for help, it could've gone either way.

Fortunately, this is also exactly where the film stops being boring and starts getting not only interesting but genuinely scary.  It begins with a terrifying growl in the middle of the night (which got my blood all nice and tingly) and intensifies when a search party runs across some bloody remains in the forest.  The "predicament" aspect of the story gives things an oppressive sense of despair as their situation grows more hopeless at every turn, while the feeling that they're being stalked by some unknown horror ratchets up the fear factor. 

Granted, this is one of those films where you have to use your imagination a bit.  First-time director and co-writer Andrew Weiner displays a knack for building up to an effective shock without being graphic about it--sometimes we even have to search the frame to find what we're supposed to see.  With a series of eerie revelations keeping us on edge, even the validity of Venkenheim's theory becomes irrelevant as a frantic struggle for survival becomes the only concern for our hapless characters.

Camerawork is of the usual cinema verite' style common to "found footage" movies, with good location photography putting us right into this very cold, very isolated setting.  Some viewers will consider the ending a disappointment--with no twists or turns or anything really clever happening, the story just comes to a rather matter-of-fact conclusion as the camera lingers on that last haunting image until the fade-out. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound.  No subtitles, but closed-captions are available.  No extras.

Of course, viewers pretty much have to meet any film of this type halfway for it to be effective at all.  THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY sets up an interesting premise to explore, and, after a long, seemingly uneventful build-up, delivers a fair amount of moody atmosphere and some blood-chilling scares.  But those expecting a meeting of the minds between a modern protagonist and the articulate, introspective creature of Mary Shelley's classic novel will find nothing of the kind in this entertaining but not all that remarkable monster movie.

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