With any ‘found footage’ horror movie, a lot of the enjoyment depends on a few main factors – the subject matter itself, the execution, the empathy for the character(s), scare(s) and the overall resolution of the story. I’ll touch on some of the main, important areas:
The Subject Matter – The story centers around the idea that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was not actually fiction but was, instead, a historical account of a real experiment. We focus on John Venkenheim (Kris Lemeche), a downwardly spiraling college professor who has dedicated his life to proving this idea is true and also the involvement of one of his ancestors in the original experiment. He involves a documentary film crew to come along with him as he ventures into the wilds of northern Canada to track the monster down. As someone who dearly loves the Universal version of Frankenstein and of the origin story itself, I was quite interested in this as an idea – fact versus fiction in history.
Execution and empathy for the characters – Early on in the film, the involvement of the documentary crew (and told from that perspective) gives a nice insight into Venkenheim’s laser-like focus on this quest and the effect it has had on his relationships and professional career. The nakedness of it is absolutely appropriate for what is happening, it feels more authentic. For the characters, I definitely give the film a lot of credit for assembling a very solid cast. Lemeche never seems like he is rattling off lines and feels authentic, afflicted and isolated. The documentary film crew is an affable bunch, lead by the always great Heather Stephens as Vicki. There are your expected archetypes in the group, the wiseass, the there-for-the-paycheck guy etc. Once they arrive in Canada, they meet up with Karl, their guide into the wilderness, played by Timothy Murphy. He does such a grand job of being the gruff, possibly dangerous foil to this academic, fancy bunch. I have a new policy moving forward, if Tim Murphy is in something, I’m going to see it – great character actor. Anyway, I think you do care about these people as a group but not totally as individuals.
As I mentioned, the documentary/found footage works extremely well early on to tap into the emotional/logistical wreck of Venkenheim’s project. It also works wonderfully in scenes showing the crew trudging across snowy plains set against beautiful mountains and the like. I thought the contrast of this absurdly beautiful area against our characters plodding through it was quite cool. However, the veil of found footage seems to get pushed away and the ‘rules’ of how the camera works, what it sees and how it functions and does not stay consistent. This was maddening because it felt like grand logistical liberties were being taken with what they were filming, why and when. There are also cut shots (admittedly lovely) of various scenery that don’t seem to jive with one, long sequence of filmed events. Here is my bottom line on this, while the found footage/documentary thing works well and appropriately at times, I think it would have been much smarter to only use it as a part of the film or as the subject (from a camera serving as the 3rd person perspective) and not as the means to tell the story. Shot in a feature style with the documentary folks filming/working in front of the camera the lion’s share of the time would have made a more dynamic narrative style visually .
Scares and resolution – I felt myself drifting in and out of being focused on the progression of the story in the first half or so of the film. Not because it wasn’t interesting on a base level but because I was pretty convinced nothing bad was going to happen. So while the exposition was important to the story, we know pretty well nothing will happen to our group while in Los Angeles. Once the story moves to the snowy tundra, it becomes slightly more tense but still seems to drift along without major stress. It was only at one point once things start to go downhill where I got that tingling uneasy feeling and it didn’t even directly involve the monster. Two characters venture off on a snowmobile to try to find Karl and their exchange unsettled me. I have no idea why, exactly, but it rattled me a little – I guess because I could see myself in that role. Beyond that, the reveal of the monster (which we really don’t see by and large) didn’t really get me, nor did the sounds of various folks getting attacked offscreen (to be fair, the sounds were awfully good/gross, just didn’t scare me). The film resolves at a pretty brisk pace and feels somewhat open-ended in a few ways, not only for the monster but for our crew members and their fates.
So wrapping this whole thing up, I feel like the subject, the actors, the environment and the overall feel were solid, interesting. However the execution and seemingly loose rule following (including music over tense scenes) seem to betray what could have been a truly compelling story and result in an uneven film with the potential promise of a lot more. Now, I realize that the casual viewer might not key on these things and enjoy it fine but for me, I would have preferred a narrative film that didn’t rely solely on found footage as its framework because clearly they had the talent in front of the camera and behind it to really make that work even better.