Frankenstein's Army was written and directed by Richard Raaphorst. It was released in the United States on April 18th, 2013 in the Tribeca Film Festival.
Set in the Second World War, Frankenstein's Army follows a Russian troop in Germany that has received an SOS from a group of Russian soldiers besieged by enemy forces. Sergeant Novikov and his men scour different regions of Germany for the lost company. Dimitri, a soldier, films their misadventures and documents their encounters with local inhabitants. They reach a run-down church, within which dwell grotesque monstrosities that are later revealed to be the creations of Dr. Frankenstein's grandson.
No One Is Trustworthy
Throughout the film, infighting arises because trust is constantly breached and promises continually broken. In the beginning, the men bond as they roam the countryside, wreaking havoc on the local people in the course of their search for distressed army men. This bond begins to unravel upon their encounters with Frankenstein's monsters, some of which seem indestructible. As the film unfolds, and Dimitri reveals that they were in fact ordered by the government to capture Frankenstein, the morale and the trust between the troops dwindle in tandem. Some of the men sustain mortal wounds, and, eventually, the troops decide to abandon Dimitri after he urges them to accompany him to the laboratory. We later learn that Dimitri was not only dishonest toward his fellow soldiers, but that he was also dishonest to the viewer. As he treks alone in search of the laboratory, he decides to record a message to his parents on his last role of film. On it, he says that Frankenstein promised their safety in exchange for his men. As might be expected, the trust once shared between the men is never restored, as all but one go on to fall prey to Frankenstein's fatal experiments.
Importance of Documentation
The importance of preserving information is a prominent theme of this film. It is seen most obviously in Dimitri's continual recording. He records nearly every moment of his time with the soldiers, with the exception of the times he faints or is implored to cease by his men. Toward the end, Frankenstein remarks that Dimitri's film will serve as proof of the possibility and value of his experiments. Importantly, they all acknowledge that what they have witnessed is nearly inconceivable. Just as they have learned to trust no one, they suspect that no one will trust or believe the stories they have, unless they have Dimitri's footage as evidence of what took place. Dimitri's footage thus serves as a kind of memorial of those whose deaths it captured and as proof of what would otherwise be considered unbelievable.
This film is far bleaker in some regards than the original Frankenstein narrative. While the original does not present good and evil as a neat binary, the two are, arguably, more clearly defined in the novel than here. There are no easily identifiable "good guys" in Frankenstein's Army. Nearly every character performs actions that are morally questionable, to say the least. Dimitri and Frankenstein are perhaps the best examples of this moral ambiguity. Dimitri resolves to record all that he can, even as his men suffer and die at the serrated hands of Frankenstein's monsters. He cares little of preserving their dignity and concerns himself with capturing every lurid detail of their tragic descent into the church's basement. Furthermore, not only does he intentionally withhold from his men knowledge of the "true" nature of their mission, but we later discover that this is in fact a lie, and that he has lead his men to their doom in exchange for the assured safety of his parents. Herein lies the moral ambiguity, for while most would agree that his deception is reprehensible, most would just as quickly sympathize with his reasons for it. Frankenstein's moral status similarly resists easy summation. His experiments would strike most as utterly despicable, and, until we learn his reasons for performing them, we may easily conclude that he exemplifies heartlessness and immorality. But we later learn that it is peace that—at least partly—motivates his gruesome undertakings. He believes that in order to reconcile the warring parties, he must conjoin their brains. He derides capitalists, communists and Nazis as "crazy," marking himself as politically neutral. He believes, and gives us reason to consider, that he is not as bad as he is made out to be.
Significance of Adaptation
This adaptation differs from others in the unique moral dilemmas it portrays and in its bleakness. And, whereas other adaptations have retained the focus on the evils of unchecked ambition, this film manages to place the story within a broader context of war and political conflict. In doing so, it adds several moral dimensions that do not exist in other adaptations, or even in the original narrative. The conflict between religious mores and Frankenstein's experiments is also touched upon.
This adaptation is also historically grounded to an unusual degree. It takes place in Nazi Germany during the second World War, and swastikas appear frequently on the uniforms of Nazi soldiers and on mechanical parts used by Frankenstein. Whether or not such is the case remains to be determined, but one could at least plausibly conclude from this that one of the messages of this adaptation is anti-Nazism; for it seems to, in some scenes, place Frankenstein's sins on a level equal to or approaching those of the Nazis. We are everywhere met with torture chambers and dark corridors likely meant to recall the conditions of the Holocaust.
It is also noteworthy that Frankenstein decided to conjoin humans with technology rather than make one anew from scratch. Both his motivations and his creations diverge quite considerably from those found in other adaptations. We see here creatures who have retained a human torso but have been fitted with the top of some vehicle. Others have a human body with a rapidly spinning warplane propeller for a head.