August 1, 2013

Frankenstein's Army (2013)

"Toward the end of World War II, Russian soldiers pushing into eastern Germany stumble across a secret Nazi lab, one that has unearthed and begun experimenting with the journal of one Dr. Victor Frankenstein."

As a rule, I loathe faux "found footage" movies, but sometimes there can be an exception. I may moan about the subgenre being oversaturated with crap, but I'll still watch yet another one of these "Blair Witch Project" clones if there's nothing else available. In this case, it's a Dutch horror movie filmed in the Czech Republic with heavily-accented English dialogue. Call me naive, but that sounds intriguing enough on its own. The fact that it's called "Frankenstein's Army" and contains lots of "Soviets versus Nazis" wartime action is just icing on the cake.

Having watched it three times in a row, I'm pleased to report that "Frankenstein's Army" does not disappoint. That's the first time I've ever written that overused, archaic and cringeworthy phrase in one of my reviews, so now you know this movie is even more special.

"Frankenstein's Army" really kind of rocks somewhat, but I'm not going to get too carried away with the overpraise because I still hate the handheld shakycam gimmick. I'm not sure why director Richard Raaphorst took that route for his debut feature, but maybe he wasn't confident enough in his cameraman's ability to use a tripod. The good news is that it isn't even remotely as nauseating to watch as any other found footage movie—well, not in the motion-sickness way—but the bad news is that it doesn't look like real found footage due to the subject matter. The Russians would be speaking Russian rather than English for one thing! It would still look fake if there were subtitles everywhere though because the attention to detail in other areas doesn't try to disguise that it's a modern film. Subtitles would simply alienate the dumber horror fans who don't like to read, so I can accept why it was done this way.

It's probably wise that the "found footage" wasn't made to look too real anyway because I'd hate for any the far-fetched cyborgs to exist in real life. The extreme horrors shown are more than enough for most people without adding another level of cruelty. The monsters are such artfully created nightmares of dead flesh and machinery that I think whoever came up with their designs must have something very wrong with them in all the sick and twisted ways I like, but anyone squeamish who watches this will not be happy. This is certainly not a "date night" movie unless you want to end up sleeping alone. "Frankenstein's Army" is a gorehound's delight, full of truly horrific and gruesome stuff, which makes a refreshing change from the wimpy PG-13s and R-rated punch-pullers lately.

"A man of vision is always misunderstood."

The biggest problem with finding a horror movie which I actually like is writing about why I like it without spoiling it for everybody else. I've also been so negative for so long that having a decent movie in my clutches is a surprise which almost renders me speechless. I want to pull out all the bog-standard descriptive words and phrases such as "awesome", "amazing, "fantastic", "I was blown away", and "the best horror movie that I've seen this year" except that none of them would be applicable in this particular case. "Frankenstein's Army" is very entertaining, practical effects-laden film, and on a purely subjective level, I loved it for its blood and guts, but as usual, there are flaws.

I've already mentioned how the found footage camerawork isn't something which I'm keen on, and the contrivances about who is carrying the camera and why are blatant in every scene. Occasional "Stop filming!" or "Film this!" orders draw more attention to the fakery than is necessary. Once the action kicks in, "Frankenstein's Army" sometimes feels more like playing a "first person shooter" computer game with no ammunition left rather than watching a movie, but that's my only other gripe. Although there's an obligatory "I'm so sorry, Mum and Dad!" homage to "The Blair Witch Project", I can also let that pass because it's quite important to the speaker's motivation.

Apart from the accents and linguistic skills, there's not much to the acting although everyone gets a chance to do something impressive. In particular, Joshua Sasse (a British actor) is very charismatic as the Polish Sergei, and Alexander Mercury is perfectly cast as Dimitri. Andrei Zayats, who seems destined to be typecast as a Russian soldier for the rest of his career, is very realistic as Vassili. Despite having yet more stereotypical character names (Sacha, Ivan, Alexei, etc.), the other cast members are equally strong only in much smaller roles.

The most famous face is Karel Roden as Viktor Frankenstein. Horror fans will probably only remember him as Dr. Varava from "Orphan" (2009), which is a bit of shame since he's been in exactly 100 roles to date. At first, I thought he was Srdjan Todorovic, the star of "A Serbian Film" (2010), because there's definitely a similarity. If there's a weak link in the chain, it's that his performance isn't manic or obsessive enough to appease hardcore "Frankenstein" fans, but this movie is a long way from Mary Shelley's novel in any case.

"Frankenstein's Army" is a nicely paced fusion of classic horror and wartime fantasy which I highly recommend. It's not available on DVD until September 10th, and its very limited theatrical release may not be in your area, but you can watch it now on Amazon's Instant Video service. I suggest that you do so immediately.

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