If Mary Shelley were around to see The Frankenstein Theory, I think she'd at first find it utterly ridiculous. But she'd also see it as an unsuccessful homage to her original intent. That's probably true of a lot of film adaptations of Frankenstein; they have defeated the purpose of her novel, lost the ideas that it set forth. At least The Frankenstein Theory understands that science has something to do with that piece of literature, and in its quest to find the elusive monster first created by Venkenhein (who the film credits with the creation of the Frankenstein monster, indicating that Shelley had taken her novel from real life), the film uncovers the fragile relationship between man and beast, science and humanity.
The film proudly boasts its connections to The Last Exorcism - "from the makers of" - which basically means that The Frankenstein Theory is a found-footage flick in a similar vein. That other film didn't do so hot (and you can find my destructive review of it on this blog), but at least this film sets out on the right foot. Director Andrew Weiner (chuckles aside) introduces each of the characters at the beginning of this mockumentary and then continues to characterize them throughout the trip with a tireless amount of very unnecessary footage. We have Jonathan Venkenhein (Kris Lemche), a scientist/professor who has become so obsessed with his theory that Frankenstein was not only real and invented by his ancestor but that it's also still alive that he sets out to find it with a group of filmmakers. These include Vicky (Heather Stephens), Eric (Eric Zuckerman), Kevin (Brian Henderson) and Das Camera Guy named Luke.
Jonathan's gone a little off the deep end with his research, and his girlfriend is about to leave him when he sets off to explore the Arctic with the help of a guide named Karl (Timothy Murphy). The opening scenes are all about exposing Jonathan's crazy schemes; no one really believes that Frankenstein's monster could be real, but they're going along with it because they're getting paid.
The film does a really good job of setting up these characters. It might partially be because they're all pretty likable; sometimes, found-footage flicks introduce characters that are so annoying that any enjoyment of the film comes from watching them die. Not the case in The Frankenstein Theory - I actually liked Kevin a lot, even if he was a sarcastic monkey. And Murphy does a spectacular job as Karl, the gruff outdoorsman who leads like a drill sergeant.
There's also great cinematography thanks to the Alaskan wilderness and the skillful eye of Luke Geissbuhler. The plains are gorgeous, the skies a vast blue, and the frozen tundra looks inviting - at least from the comfort of a warm home. It adds a picturesque quality to the film that detracts from the amount of nothingness that makes up the first half of the film.
Then we get to the second half, when the characters make it to Alaska and... well, exactly nothing happens again. If I had to sum up The Frankenstein Theory, I would describe it like a Jackson Pollack painting - sometimes beautiful, spattered with color, but mostly white canvas. Nothing seems to happen in the film, not even a jump scare or a seemingly eerie event that turns out to be a dud. Weiner (chuckles) doesn't attempt to scare the audience besides throwing in some howling wolves and the roar of the Creature, which, even though the characters deny it, still sounds like a bear to me. For a few minutes I thought I was watching The Grey again, but then I realized that that film knew how to pace itself.
It's such a disappointment to relay that, even though the characterization is so strong here, the actual plot and finale do nothing to warrant spending so much time with these characters. I'll give credit to the film for very rarely showing the Creature; that could have been utter disaster. Still, however, the film needs more substance besides pretty camera shots and some sounds of the wilderness. I could pop on a tape of Arctic sound effects and find it more engaging.
Ultimately, The Frankenstein Theory just doesn't know what to do with its story once it gets to the meat of it. It lingers upon the questions of show vs. tell, outright scares vs. boredom. The film is actually sort of backwards for most horror films nowadays - it provides good character, but it forgets to include anything of substance in the action department. We're left adrift in flurries of white tundra, wondering where the heck the interesting part of the movie went in the blizzard.
The Frankenstein Theory on Rotten Tomatoes