A horrific take on Mary Shelley’s classic… just not in the way we hoped
‘You know this story…’ Daniel Radcliffe’s voiceover begins over the iconic image of a monster about to be brought to life. It’s true; there has been no shortage of renditions of Mary Shelley’s acclaimed novel, now almost 200 years old. What promises to make this one different is its focus on Igor (Radcliffe) and how his relationship with the mad Dr. Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) came to be. With Paul McGuigan at the helm, the director behind BBC’s Sherlock, hopes are high for this take on the legendary tale.
We meet Igor as The Hunchback, a nameless prisoner of the circus. Ridiculed by his fellow performers both to and away from the crowds, he seeks solace in knowledge from medical books. His only other source of happiness comes from watching a beautiful trapeze artist, Lorelei (Jessica Brown-Findlay). It’s when she takes a tumble from the skies one night that The Hunchback and Frankenstein meet, rushing to her aid. Combining their medical knowhow, they save her life and Frankenstein gets a glimpse of the genius behind the clown. He returns that night to rescue his newfound colleague in a dramatic sequence that leaves them wanted men by the police.
Frankenstein officially christens his new assistant ‘Igor’, after his former roommate, and informs him that his hunchback is no more than a cyst that needs to be drained. How Igor couldn’t figure this out for himself, given his in-depth medical studies, is hard to believe. Nevertheless, Frankenstein does indeed drain the cyst in a graphically gruesome scene, before strapping Igor into a harness to help his posture. Of course, this conveniently means Radcliffe doesn’t have to be deformed for the entire movie. The whole premise is far-fetched and Igor’s transformation from circus freak to civilised accomplice is a bit too easy.
We start to see just how unhinged Dr. Frankenstein truly is when he reveals his experiments and desire to reanimate the dead.
‘Life is temporary,’ he exclaims, ‘why should death be any different?’
Convinced by his seemingly moral approach, Igor becomes Frankenstein’s partner and helps him with his research. They create a hybrid creature composed of animal parts, primarily chimpanzee, and nickname him ‘Gordon’ – possibly the least threatening name imaginable. But, upon showcasing the beast at Frankenstein’s university, it escapes and has to be killed by the pair; or more specifically, bludgeoned to death.
Traumatised by this, Igor attempts to dissuade Frankenstein from further experiments. But, backed by a rich classmate to advance his research onto human subjects, Frankenstein descends down the path of chaotic creationism he is famed for in Shelley’s novel. Igor is not the only one adverse to Frankenstein’s scheme, however. Inspector Turpin (played by none other than Moriarty himself, Andrew Scott) is onto him from the moment he discovers a severed lion’s paw dropped during the circus chase. His role in the movie is blatantly to provide a religious contrast to Frankenstein’s work; that creation is God’s power and His alone. Victor tells him that ‘men like you have always stood in the way of progress.’ The juxtaposition could have worked better if it was subtler – having the Inspector literally clutch a crucifix whilst perusing evidence was a bit much.
An odd cameo by Charles Dance (oh yes, Tywin Lannister) as Frankenstein’s father uncovers Victor’s true motivation is to atone his brother’s death. The revelation epitomises the ridiculousness of McGuigan’s attempt to revive Shelley’s creation. Despite the combination of two brilliant British actors in McAvoy and Radcliffe, the movie tries too hard to emulate the wit and camaraderie of Sherlock. McAvoy especially overdoes it in a number of scenes, whereas Radcliffe occasionally falls flat. A pointless love interest in Lorelei does him no favours and makes his grotesque origins even harder to believe. Frankenstein’s monster ironically takes a backseat in this reimagining and has little purpose in the film’s climax. Sadly, Victor Frankenstein proves that some things really should stay dead.