When a young man (Daniel Radcliffe) is rescued from the circus (and subsequently healed of his “humpback” and hunch) by a rich, eccentric benefactor called Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy), he becomes embroiled in Frankenstein’s unholy project of reanimating corpses. It’s Frankenstein. You know the story.
The problem with Paul McGuigan films is that while they are meticulously crafted, and often star incredibly talented people, the resulting films are always somehow hollow and half-baked. Victor Frankenstein is no different. It seems as though the film may have been conceived with the sole purpose of giving audiences exactly what they want: James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe in old-timey clothes, dirty streets and hoity accents.
By and large, however, it is the Victor/Igor relationship that mostly works, especially in light of some very questionable subplots with a love interest for Igor (Jessica Brown Findlay) and a vengeful detective (Andrew Scott). Radcliffe’s quiet reserve is the perfect foil for McAvoy’s manic, yearning need to create something new, but then Radcliffe’s particular brand of childlike wonder and wounded young man currently has no equal.
Of course, the story is a significant departure from the stoic, enveloping Gothic horror of Mary Shelley’s original text, but it is the Gothic horror the film mostly gets right. Given the amount of actual horror today’s audiences witness on a daily basis simply by watching the news, Gothic horror in film has fallen by the wayside in favour of more visceral horrors (see: torture porn and any movie made by Eli Roth). Gothic horror needs a lighter touch, and one that audiences do not often have patience for. Victor Frankenstein strikes an excellent balance between delighting in the true horror of piecing a new life together from decaying corpses, and bringing enough action into the fray to keep audiences interested. Certainly this specimen of the genre stands head and shoulders above less successful attempts like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Van Helsing, or even Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
The film does have a touch too much humour in it to make it a true Gothic horror; however, with two actors as funny and talented as Radcliffe and McAvoy, audiences would be left wanting something to break up the monotony of grimness without it.