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Frankenstein's Creature Movie Review

Written by Rachel Knightley

Released by Hex Media

Directed by Sam Ashurst
Written by James Swanton
2018, 91 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Frightfest World Premiere on 27th August 2018

James Swanton as The Creature

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Adapted and performed by James Swanton and directed by Sam Ashurst, Frankenstein’s Creature is a filmed performance of Swanton’s one-man stage show, telling Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus from the creature’s perspective. Part drama, part storytelling in monologue form, it takes as its opening scene the murder of Viktor Frankenstein’s young brother William by the creature Viktor created, immediately blending narrative with the visual stillness and inescapability of the memorials on which Swanton performs to create gripping intensity and even claustrophobia: there is no getting away; the child’s murderer will unburden himself and we, the audience, are his unwilling confessors.

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The emotional isolation that forms the “monster”, “fiend” and “demon” the creature becomes in Shelley’s novel is introduced, but it is overshadowed by the murder of a child: as such, Frankenstein’s Creature is no apology for the popular image of Frankenstein’s monster. It is, however, showcasing the potential kindness, intelligence and depth that were also part of the creature’s nature and communicates the innate tragedy of his character, as well as that of his victims. Swanton’s consistent, assured performance sales through this hour-and-a-half marathon with astonishing vocal dexterity, physical and spatial economy and emotional stamina.

The burial ground crypt setting makes for a versatile, appropriately atmospheric backdrop. This very human, constructed response to death contrasts elegantly with occasional scene changes of cold and sinister natural landscapes whose stark cruelty silently forces the suggestion of the monster’s own lack of free will, that the creature had little more choice in his behaviour than did the water, trees and ice. The difference is that he is fashioned in human in form, something over which he definitely had no choice.

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Filmed theatre does not automatically play either medium to its strengths. A theatrical performance means an audience being present in the room with a live emotional journey in real time; it is not cinema’s poorer cousin any more than the other way around. As such, the most audience-friendly way of shooting a performance for a cinema audience – at least without the budget and resources of the RSC or National Theatre – is the still camera technique Ashurst has chosen. It leaves Swanton in charge of pulling us in or pushing us away, making only very delicate, occasional use of layered imagery or cutaways to the cold, stark natural world beyond from which both the creature and his creator have come and will disappear. Simplistic set and filming is often a good decision for filming a staged production but if setting itself up as a movie in its own right does rather draw attention to the falsity. Our lack of choice of where to focus does sometimes draw frustrating attention to the unreality of the situation, which is a danger of this crossover of theatre and film that does not get in the way of suspended disbelief when either is left to its own devices.

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Contemporary language and aesthetics make the stylised classical annunciation harder work than it need be, so although the make-up design suggests something far closer to the facial description Mary Shelley gave than subsequent film directors attributed to the monster, a side effect here is that the combined result becomes more clownish and less emotionally truthful than the same style might have communicated even half a century ago. For these reasons, along with the struggle between film and theatre, this may be a demanding introduction for those not familiar with the original story. For those who are familiar, it is an enjoyably curious addition to the canon and there is no question of how powerful a stage show this formula creates, or how much depth, energy or conviction James Swanton is capable of.

Frankenstein's Creature is available now in a strictly limited Collector's Edition from Hex Media


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