For this weekly feature, I’ll be watching some of the non-populist science fiction fare lurking around the edges of Netflix. These might be new to you, or you might have seen them a thousand times. They may be wonderful, or they may be terrible. Part of the fun is figuring it out. Now sit back in your captain’s chair and join me as I clear out my Giant Freakin’ Queue.
To debut this column, I thought it best to go with something slightly new, both to Netflix and to viewers in general. The low-budget sci-fi horror flick The Frankenstein Theory is the first feature from writer/director Andrew Weiner, whose first major job listed on his IMDb page is casting director/associate producer for Tromeo and Juliet, which is slightly telling. The Frankenstein Theory was released on VOD on March 1st, and it’s a film I’d have to assume works best with absolutely no prior knowledge or expectations. What is it about independent horror movies that always begs for such a blind entry?
Plain and simple, The Frankenstein Theory is not an excellent film by any means, but it’s also not the cheap pile of garbage I expected it to be either. (That bastard IMDb rating can do that sometimes.) The Frankenstein Theory is perfectly derivative of every film that came before it that was bled dry of inspiration and narrative. When a director is working with smaller budgets, that’s occasionally acceptable, but this one really toes the line by taking a used-but-still-interesting concept and doing almost nothing different with it. Though it could have been more than a Blair Witch ripoff, I almost feel the need to describe it as “a female-led documentary crew goes off into unfamiliar territory to try and document a monstrous legend and runs into more than they can handle.” Ta-dah! Let’s break down the plot.
Vicky (Heather Stephens) and her crew have been hired to document a hunt led by Jonathan Venkenheim (Kris Lemche, who was also in the much more interesting My Little Eye, also on Netflix). Venkenheim is the proud owner of a series of letters he believes were the real-life inspiration for the novel Frankenstein, never mind that Mary Shelley’s connection to any of this is absent — after all, it’s just a theory. Vicky, sound man Brian (Brian Henderson), other guy Eric (Eric Zuckerman), and main cameraman Luke (Luke Geissbühler) all go along for the ride to get a paycheck, each packing a healthy dose of cynicism. Jonathan takes them up to the Arctic Circle to follow a path of murders that he hypothesizes to be the real-life Monster’s migratory path. That’s about all you need to know in order to enjoy this flick to the fullest capacity.
Here’s the thing. Weiner’s direction is pretty solid, all things considered, even though there are a ton of moments when Luke is still filming things for absolutely no reason. The script he co-wrote with Vlady Pildysh is fairly tight and doesn’t go off meandering. Everyone’s performances are better than what you might expect, and Henderson’s goofy playfulness, which would have been really annoying in so many other non-actor’s hands, is legitimate and provides some needed comic relief. Then there are two bizarrely enjoyable small roles from Joe Egender (Alcatraz), who plays an informational methhead, and Timothy V. Murphy, who plays their testosterone-laden Arctic guide. The only thing holding this film back is the fact that it should have been an Outer Limits episode, given how little actually occurs. For instance, an attempt at a B-story is made very early on, but nothing ever comes of it.
A sci-fi horror doesn’t need tons of gore or futuristic weapons in order to be a success within the genre, but when a movie boasts a title that calls to mind one of the first pieces of sci-fi horror ever to exist, it needs to swing for the fences just a little harder. Because The Frankenstein Theory wasn’t the 87 minutes of wasted time I feared it would be, I’d easily recommend it, but if you’re even slightly hesitant at this point, go ahead and skip it. Chances are, Andrew Weiner will have something better out next year.
See The Frankenstein Theory if you like: Documentaries made by people who haven’t seen documentaries before; snow; films you can watch with friends where you discuss how you’d make it better as the film is actually playing.
Thanks for reading, guys! Check back every Friday for a brand spanking new review of a non-brand-spanking-new film, and remember to tip your Arctic Circle guides.