Tag Archives: Frankenstein movies

Be My Frankenstein

The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster

by Hope Madden

An awful lot of people have reimagined Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in an awful lot of ways. What makes writer/director Bomani J. Story’s take, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster, so effective is that it tackles a lot in very little time and handles all of it heartbreakingly well.

Laya DeLeon Hayes is Vicaria, a gifted student whose heart and brains overtake her wisdom when she decides that death itself is the disease that must be cured, and that she’s the one to cure it. It was Dr. Frankenstein’s vanity that pushed him to discover the secret to life itself. For Vicaria, the reason is far more tragic, but the result is the same.

To say that Story situates Shelley’s tale in the context of drug violence would be to sell his film short. He’s moved the story from European castles and laboratories to the projects, where Vicaria’s mother fell victim to a drive-by shooting, her brother was shot to death on a drug deal gone wrong, and her father deals with his grief by using. But drugs are just part of the larger problem, the almost escapable, systemic and cyclical nature of violence and poverty.

One of the reasons the Frankenstein monster is so effective so often is that he is tragically monstrous. He is violent through no real fault of his own but as a reaction to an environment that hates him, treats him with cruelty, fear and malice. We simultaneously root for and against this monster.

The trick is to make us root for the creator, and DeLeon Hayes delivers a layered, touching performance that accomplishes this. Vicaria is so young, so hopeful, and so full of fight that we forgive her short sightedness and her immediate (and understandable) fear. Vicaria’s missteps are understandable because she’s a kid, and her heart’s in the right place, which is why she keeps making the worst decisions. It’s a powerfully compelling performance.

Story’s chosen genre may feel slight, even campy, but the tropes belie some densely packed ideas, and there’s a current of empathy running through the film that not only separates this from other Frankenstein tales, but deepens the film’s genuine sense of tragedy.

Not every performance is as strong as DeLeon Hayes’s, and sometimes Story’s dialog is asked to carry too much historical significance. But there’s no denying the power he wrung from the source material.

Bad Doctor

Victor Frankenstein

by Hope Madden

As Daniel Radcliffe’s Igor begins to spin his Gothic yarn in voiceover, he tells us that everyone knows about the monster, but too few people know about Victor Frankenstein.

Here is the first problem with this movie.

In fact, only James Whale and Boris Karloff did Frankenstein’s monster proper. Everyone else – everyone else – has been preoccupied with the mad scientist whose compulsion to create life went wildly out of control.

Still, Paul McGuigan’s film invites us, not just to the headspace of the mad doctor, but to the bond between scientist and assistant, because VF is, at its heart, a buddy picture. In fact, we learn a lot more about Igor than we do the title character.

Radcliffe’s performance is tender and sincere as the malformed and bullied young man, rescued by the anatomically obsessed surgeon. As Victor, James McAvoy waffles between a believably wounded and vulnerable genius, and some hammy overacting.

Neither McAvoy nor Radcliffe are the issue, though. Max Landis’s screenplay meanders hither and yon without the slightest focus, from circus to laboratory to ball to medical college to isolated castle without a clear narrative path or sense of purpose. Worse still, the utterly baffling leaps in logic. (Igor is crippled circus clown who’s never known anything but cruelty; he is also the circus doctor. I’m sorry – what?)

McGuigan’s pacing only exacerbates the situation. The film feels twice as long as it is, and the very-late-entrance of the monster only makes the balance of the running time feel that much more tedious. Though he pastes together eye-catching images now and again – the twirl of a red skirt, an oversized medical sketch on the floor, enormous advertisement heads atop a building – on the whole he can’t capitalize on either a visual aesthetic or any sense of movement.

Victor Frankenstein is as stagnant and bloated as his corpses.

Regardless of all that, the question is, who needs another doctor with a God complex? Whale was right. It’s the monster who’s interesting.