With each new found footage film, the once profitable artistic approach dies a little. Sometimes, it works and works well (as in the high school superhero mash-up Chronicle). When it doesn't, and the horror realm is literally strewn with hundreds of examples of same, it's like experiencing your grandmother's out of focus featurette on her package tour of Europe. While all that shaky-cam shiz-nit has its fans, for the most part, it's ideas that carry the day, not how much of said "you are there" style you can take. Enter The Frankenstein Theory, a low budget indie effort that asks the burning question, "What if Mary Shelley's Modern Prometheus was actually a true story?" The answer is not worth the wait.
A documentary crew shows up at the door of young scientist/scholar/jerkweed Professor Jonathan Venkenheim (an absolutely horrible Chris Lemche). Lead by former college buddy Vicky (Heather Stephens), they are there to discuss a strange, controversial theory the egghead has. Believing that Mary Shelley's book about Victor Frankenstein and his creature was actually non-fiction, he offers up proof that the letters contained in the manuscript are/were real. He then offers to pay everyone to travel up to the Arctic Circle where a series of mysterious murders have occurred. Naturally, no one believes the Professor, but they need the dough. Fast forward to the freezing cold climes of Canada and our group first meets up with a weirdo (Joe Egender) who claims to have had an encounter with the thing. Then they hook with their professional guide, Karl (Timothy V. Murphy). All manner of dull Blair Witch inspired hijnx ensue.
Does the monster eventually show up? Do you really care at this juncture? The Frankenstein Theory takes an already questionable premise (though it pulls its butt out of the illogical wringer more times than it really should be able to) and drains it of all its potential terror. In its place are the same mistakes that most found footage films make - too much interpersonal squabbling, unexplained camera placement, and not enough solid shivers. As with most of this slight subgenre, we are supposed to feel a basic sense of dread from the notion of not knowing what's coming around the next corner, what image the viewfinder will capture next. But here, that's never a concern. Things happen offscreen and we are treated to a collection of cardboard cutout irritations who never get us to believe the threat. Now, recent offerings like V/H/S/2 have solved this dilemma by giving us great ideas (a zombie invasion from a biker's helmet cam, a documentary crew capturing a Satanic cult's victory against God) executed expertly (by original Witch wonders Eduardo Sanchez and for the former, The Raid: Redemption's Gareth Evans on the latter).
Here, all co-writer/director Andrew Weiner has is a novel notion - that's it. His cast constantly lets him down, more amateurish than their multiple IMDb credits would suggest. This is especially true of Mr. Lemche, who looks about as professorial as a rug burn and comes across as a young actor merely reading his lines. Never once do you buy that he is an Oxford educated thinker, or even worse, a long lost relative of Frankenstein devoted to clearing the family name. He's just a plot placeholder, adding nothing to the mix. The rest of the cast is guilty of something similar, even if Timothy Murphy as Karl attempts to play grizzled and wise. They just don't match the proposed seriousness of the premise. If we are out looking for Frankenstein's monster (even if the idea is lunacy), wouldn't there be less bickering and incessant infighting? Would the crewmembers constantly bad mouth everything that's going on? Is it all just a set-up for a last act comeuppance that arrives to0 late to save anyone - participant or audience.
To that point, The Frankenstein Theory fails. It doesn't deliver, barely providing the kind of scary movie mannerisms that keep us invested in the genre. Instead, it's a long, slow slog through a bunch of BS, only to have it all crash together with a cobbled together ending. The result is a novel idea done very poorly, and a slipshod excuse for a film.
As for the tech specs present, The Frankenstein Theory looks and sounds pretty decent. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is crisp and clean, with limited artificial noise tossed in during post to provide an authentic, "filmed on the fly" ideal. There is good color and a nice level of detail. There is also a solid Dolby Digital 5.1 mix which allows for some minor spatial effects and some accomplished ambience. We get a sense of being outdoors, in the elements, and the dialogue is always easily discernible. Sadly, there are no extras here. Some added content would have been nice, especially a commentary so filmmaker Andrew Weiner could walk us through the process of making the movie.
During a key climatic moment near the midpoint of Universal's original Frankenstein, our famed scientist looks up from the body parts lying still on the slab and screams, "IT'S ALIVE! IT'S ALIVE!!!" One wishes they could say the same for this found footage flop. The idea is excellent. The execution is not. Rent It.
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