Back in May, I attended a fantastic found footage lecture hosted by The Black Museum. Freelance horror journalist Alexandra West discussed the mechanics behind these hot commodities and discussed a handful of her favourites that use these techniques to their full extent or act as game changers to the genre.
One of these featured films was 2010’s The Last Exorcism, a movie that I’ve been meaning to watch but have never gotten around to popping in. As West talked about The Last Exorcism’s ingenuity, I found myself growing more interested in the scary flick and the filmmaking team behind it. Which is why it’s supremely disappointing and sucky to report that The Frankenstein Theory, another found footage film brought to movie goers by the creators of The Last Exorcism, is an uninspired and stupefyingly obvious play-by-play of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project.
A documentary crew driven by its sympathetic director Vicky (played by Heather Stephens) embark on a search with an eccentric professor, Jonathan Venkenhein (played by Kris Lemche). Venkenhein is impassioned about his Da-Vinci Code-esque thesis stating that a real-life Frankenstein exists in the Canadian Arctic Circle and clues proving a past existence are peppered in Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein.
With a skeptical and worried crew, Vicky and Jonathan travel to the icy cold plains of Canada to track down the whereabouts of the elusive creature while also meeting up with a strung-out witness named Clarence (played by a hammy Joel Egender) and their guide, a wilderness expert named Karl (played by Timothy V. Murphy).
Andrew Weiner’s problematic horror/thriller immediately begins on a bad foot. Venkenhein is introduced to us as an educated professor but Lemche looks way too young to play the part of this off-kilter rambler. He rather looks like a student this professor would teach. Venkenhein references many sources while he trails off and occasionally gets sidetracked. He is consistently nose-deep in his work, looks dishevelled, and even has the speech of an old soul. So, why would the film’s casting director give this role to someone who doesn’t fit the physical mould? Lemche might be a solid actor in other projects but here, he’s under qualified.
In fact, many of the film’s main flaws originate out of faulty casting and heavy-handed direction. The Frankenstein Theory promises to be a found footage film but feels as if it would be much happier being a straight-forward horror – which is a sign that the film is confused as to what it should be. It seems as if the cast is confused as well. Instead of taking on the spontaneity of a found footage film, all of the dialogue sounds over-rehearsed out of the mouths of actors who want the audience to be aware that they’re watching a creepy movie.
The found footage genre may have become played out over the years, but there still needs to be a lingering convincing aura that makes viewers want to buy into the story. The Frankenstein Theory has none of this. Since the audience can’t see past the bluntness of the shallow performances, we can never dive into the mystery of their search.
Even the charismatic relationship between Brian and Eric (a sound engineer and assistant producer played by Brian Henderson and Eric Zuckerman) unfortunately evolves into something less enjoyable than what was being had by the fun-loving, sarcastic duo. The shivery, serene scenery adds a healthy dose to the unsettling isolation, but the effect is undercut by a plethora of night- vision footage, hoping to make movie goers pull our shirts up over our eyes. It doesn’t.
Unknown howls go bump in the night, equipment is mysteriously destroyed the next morning, and people start disappearing as the film plays each found footage trope Burkittsville beat by Burkittsville beat, which makes each payoff seem more and more underwhelming as the film slugs along. When audiences finally get an idea of what the crew is hunting (or what is hunting the crew), bored movie goers are going to wonder why a WWF wrestler is looking for a tag team partner in the Arctic Circle.
All in all, don’t expect The Frankenstein Theory to be featured in any lectures anytime soon. Except maybe if that lecture is dissecting bad horror movies.