“DIRECTOR’S COMMENTARY: TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN” (Stanley Film Festival Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
When you have a legitimately fantastic and unique concept for a film, making said movie can feel like a game of basketball. You can hold on to the ball tight, you can show off fancy moves just because you’ve got a leg up on the competition, and you can exude a true show of confidence in every step you take with that ball. However, at the end of the day, all that matters is that the ball makes it into the net, and that you get credit for the points that you make. And other times, you can drop the ball, and perhaps someone else might pick up the ball one day and deliver on that promise that you had.
It’s this analogy that best defines my frustration with Tim Kirk’s DIRECTOR’S COMMENTARY: TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, a new cinematic experience with a genuinely great premise and an unfortunately weak execution. For those unfamiliar, DIRECTOR’S COMMENTARY has the brilliant concept of telling a fictional behind-the-scenes story for an actual existing film over the course of a DVD director’s commentary to said film. While almost a completely original idea (this writer can’t say definitively, as a similar concept was executed over Ian Brennan’s and Adam McKay’s completely improvised track for TALLADEGA NIGHTS), DIRECTOR’S COMMENTARY contains the ambition to create a fictional alternate reality and choose such an obscure title that the reality between fact and fiction can become blurred. And while it’s incredibly effective at times and almost always ambitious, the experiment isn’t always a success, and for something so dependent on the suspension of disbelief, the problematic nature of DIRECTOR’S COMMENTARY: TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN is the project’s biggest anchor.
While Kirk looked into real life commentary tracks to inspire DIRECTOR’S COMMENTARY: TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (with the infamous commentary for THE LIMEY serving as inspiration), the film’s assumption that the audience should roll with the information rather than earn their belief is the greatest flaw, and partially comes from never having a precedent for such a project. Had TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN actually been a cult film in some capacity, or had they chosen a film with a more traditional cult appeal (especially considering the morbid direction the film takes, which paints the fans as near Manson-esque instead of midnight moviegoers), the audience would be more likely to buy the story behind TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, or the horrific events that fictionally were begotten by said film. Instead, we’re left to trusting the film’s narrators, and when paired against the actual images of the film, the audience is left with something oh-so-close to being special, yet lacking that spark of genius to truly make it memorable.
That’s not to say DIRECTOR’S COMMENTARY isn’t clever; in fact, the script from Jay and Tim Kirk can be rather hilarious, skewering and gripping at times. But, as with many of Rodney Ascher’s pseudo-documentary productions, the wealth of ambition is both the film’s greatest asset and greatest detriment. DIRECTOR’S COMMENTARY goes big with almost all of its creative decisions, whether its the tale of terror that is at the heart of the mystery or in the heavy emotional responses we get over the course of the track, but had the emotion felt more authentic and had the stories matched the film’s visuals just a little better, the end result would have been something truly breathtaking and transgressive. In essence, for a film whose story takes place entirely via an audio commentary track, a little restraint could have made a world of difference.
In fact, that dynamic alone can be seen in the performances of the film. As director Gavin Merrill, Clu Gulager delivers a mostly understated performance, selling the human aspect of his ethically sketchy and genuinely affected character tenfold. However, Zack Norman’s performance as producer David Falks is much louder, almost cartoonishly so as his Robert Evans-esque drawl goes on far too long and gets far too defensive, even to the point where it’s almost self-aware. And by the time Leon Vitali shows up, brilliantly and organically playing a fictional bent on himself, the back and forth between Gulager and Norman almost feels like a comedy routine, but as if the straight man in the sketch were asked to play his part dramatically.
Technically speaking, DIRECTOR’S COMMENTARY: TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN is a bit of a marvel, and cinematically speaking, there’s not much like it out there, especially that’s expressly intended to be experience on the big screen. Yet in its decision to pull no punches, DIRECTOR’S COMMENTARY is too colorful and broad to feel like a genuine tale, which is what would be necessary in order to keep the faux-commentary nature as realistic as possible. If DIRECTOR’S COMMENTARY was meant to be more silly than surreal, then the commentary aspect could have been an afterthought, and the story would have worked better as a whole. But for a feature length experiment in storytelling and the mediums in which stories can be told, DIRECTOR’S COMMENTARY: TERROR FRANKENSTEIN just does not have what it takes to flip the switch on its audience, despite it’s intentions.