Hyper-stylised period romp Victor Frankenstein takes great liberties with its source material, says MacDara Conroy
If a faithful retelling of a classic horror tale is what you’re after, Victor Frankenstein is most certainly not the movie for you. To say Paul McGuigan’s hyper-stylised period romp, patterned very much after Guy Ritchie’s superhero revisions of Sherlock Holmes, takes liberties with the source material would be a grave understatement. Shifting the setting from the late Georgian era to some unspecified time after the electric lightbulb is the least of its irreverence. But if one can get past such sacrilege to take the film for what it is, McGuigan and screenwriter Max Landis arguably do a better job with their bold reimagining of Mary Shelley’s cautionary tale than this year’s fundamental misreading of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation in Mr Holmes. Better doesn’t mean good, mind you.
Creation is the big theme of Landis’ script, which shifts the emphasis off of the man whose name adorns the marquee as an imagined origin story for his notorious hunchback sidekick Igor (Daniel Radcliffe). In this telling of the tale he’s a quasi-Quasimodo, a nameless sideshow freak with a gift for medicine, rescued from the circus by the dashing doctor (James McEvoy) while making his body-part-pilfering rounds. One drained abscess and a back brace later, our hunchback is a whole new man – a point of which young Victor never fails to remind his protégé as their subsequent meddling with the forces of nature grows more and more sinister.
And the meddling doesn’t end there, as Landis – writer of Fantastic Four director Josh Trank’s debut Chronicle – throws in a love interest for Igor in acrobat turned high-society maiden Lorelei (a nothing role for Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay), a nemesis for Frankenstein in the form of a devout Christian detective (Andrew Scott, Moriarty in the BBC’s own very loosely adapted Sherlock) obsessed with exposing his ungodly work, and a crazed grand finale – fireworks, lightning bolts, the whole shebang – that aims to distract from the plot’s lack of focus by singeing off its loose ends and adding not just one but two extra big baddies for a great big explosion of lunacy.
It’s certainly not the film it desperately wants to be, not helped by Landis’ frequent references to his influences: there’s a groan-inducing Young Frankenstein bit, and the second act sees the tone make a nasty shift with uncomfortable shades of The Fly II in a grotesque chimera named Gordon (possibly after Stuart Gordon, director of the similarly themed Re-Animator). And yet Victor Frankenstein is really nowhere near as terrible as its shockingly bad opening weekend (the worst in decades, apparently) might suggest.
Also out this week is 11 Minutes, a Polish-Irish co-production and the fourth film in the second wind of Polish auteur Jerzy Skolimowski. Here the Knife in the Water scribe makes a stab at Altman-esque slice-of-life with multiple storylines, mostly unrelated, taking place simultaneously in the centre of Warsaw within the titular timeframe. But the tropes within these stories are hoary: the sleazy director (Richard Dormer the only familiar face to non-Polish audiences) scheming to bed his leading lady (Paulina Chapko) on the casting couch; a friendly hot dog vendor (Andrzej Chyra, Kaytn) with a sinister past; a drug-addled courier (Dawid Ogrodnik, Ida) getting high on his own supply. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
What’s more, the vaguely sci-fi underpinning that maintains some interest even in spite of the amateurish acting (Dormer is particularly bad as a PUA type with a godawful Yankee accent) is blown away by a dumbfounding finale comprising a Final Destination-style chain of events that obliterates any sense of plot or meaning. That might very well be the point on Skolimowski’s part, a poke at audience expectations in the vein of Michael Haneke, but it’s not worth sitting through even 11 minutes of it, let alone all 81 of its running time.
Victor Frankenstein opens nationwide on Thursday December 3rd. 11 Minutes opens the Kinopolis Polish Film Festival in Dublin on Thursday December 3rd and is in selected cinemas from Friday December 4th