“The Frankenstein Theory” is now playing at AMC Star Cinema. 1:25, and not rated, but would likely be rated R for pervasive language and violent images.
Almost 14 years after “The Blair Witch Project,” you’d think the found-footage horror genre would be played out by now. But every few years, some filmmaker with a lot of ingenuity and a little money comes along to reinvent the genre. Oren Peli did wonders with $10,000 and some in-camera special effects for the first “Paranormal Activity,” and Barry Levinson made an effective eco-horror thriller with last fall’s “The Bay” by drawing in multiple “found” sources, from local news B-roll to Skype chats. Heck, “Trollhunter” even made the genre hilarious.
Andrew Weiner’s “The Frankenstein Theory” definitely does not reinvent the genre; it very much follows the “Blair Witch” template, as a group of unwary documentary filmmakers go after a mysterious creature, and don’t come back.
But it’s the first found-footage film I can remember to marry the 21st-century horror genre to classic horror from a century ago, and that makes it at least worth a look. The film is getting a very small cinematic rollout before it comes out on DVD on March 26, and among the 15 theaters it’s playing in is Fitchburg’ s AMC Star Cinema.
Arrogant young Jonathan Venkenheim (Kris Lemche) believes Shelley’s classic tale was a fictionalized account of real events, and that his ancestor was the real Mad Scientist. The book leaves Frankenstein and his creature stranded on an ice floe in the Arctic, and Venkenheim believes the creature is still roaming the tundra somewhere.
He bankrolls a documentary filmmaker (Heather Stephens) and her crew to chronicle his exploits, and off they go.
The film takes a while to get to the creepy stuff, and Weiner isn’t able to always hold the viewer’s interest until then. The movie’s saving grace are the two deeply skeptical film crew (Brian Henderson and Eric Zuckerman), who spend the first half of the movie giving each other Wet Willies and snickering behind Venkenheim. They’re genuinely funny, especially when things start to get a little scary in the frozen north (“I don’t want some bear to be making fun of me while he’s eating my leg!”)
Unfortunately, they’re also genuinely expendable, and “Theory” follows a familiar path as the characters are picked off one by one. Weiner keeps most of the mayhem offscreen, using unnerving sound effects and famliiarfound-horror visual touches (like night vision) to enhance the spooks. (Unfortunately, the effect is lessened a little by the fact that, for the monster’s roars, he seems to have cribbed sound effects from the video game “Doom.”)
Still, it’s an engaging debut, and possibly points the way forward for found-horror — backwards, to horror’s classic tales. I’m sure a shaky-cam visit to Dracula’s castle is in the works somewhere.