Writer: James Swanton
Cast: James Swanton
Running time: 91mins
What’s the story: In a dilapidated house, Frankenstein’s Creature recounts the events of his life.
What’s the verdict: Frankenstein directed by the alien from Under the Skin provides a sense of what to expect from Sam Ashurst’s singular directorial debut.
Based on lead actor James Swanton’s one-man play and told exclusively from the Creature’s point of view, this demands your attention for the full 91-minute run time. Yet, for those willing to take the journey, Frankenstein’s Creature is an extraordinary experience.
Film critic turned filmmaker Ashurst elects to shoot in a single fixed take, locked on the recess of a derelict house in which the Creature recounts his tale of suffering and revenge.
Despite this visual acknowledgement of the film’s stage origins, this is no simple point-and-shoot exercise. Half dissolves to frozen wastelands or alternate angles of the Creature convey both the unforgiving setting and the fiend’s fractured mind, as the story inexorably leads to murder.
Adopting a Michael Haneke-like approach, Ashurst uses shot depth and composition to alter his image. The director permits himself a handful of slow zooms, but acknowledges this is his actor’s space to dominate.
And as the Creature, Swanton undulates from background to foreground as the demon condemns his maker for his woes. Leeringly leaning in, he takes the audience into his confidence, making them complicit in the crimes committed.
Make-up ghoulishly exaggerates the actor’s features, echoing Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. He conveys the miraculous, monstrous creation’s rage and confusion through his twisted, sinewy torso (as much a special effect as in any other Frankenstein adaptation) and the power of a tour-de-force monologue.
A performance of raw ambition, Swanton’s strangulated articulation and deft movement between fleeting happiness, melancholia and psychotic triumph is mesmerising. Props and clothing bring to life other players in the Creature’s life, Swanton in full command of his setting as his stage play is captured for the ages.
Composer Johnny Jewel’s bassy synth score seems to be the noise inside the Creature’s mind. Music cues intertwine with dialogue for an auditory experience as uncanny as the film’s visuals.
An expressionistic monochrome blue-tint reflects the unforgiving climate the Creature finds itself in (matching the freezing January day when the film was shot). It also creates a sense of Frankenstein’s Creature being some long-lost, recently unearthed artifact from the early days of cinema.
Those expecting Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein or Sean Bean’s The Frankenstein Chronicles may feel lightning has struck them. But, Frankenstein’s Creature, made in the 200th anniversary year of the book’s publication, is a striking example of how Mary Shelley’s blueprint for modern horror and sci-fi can take many wondrous forms.