Depraved Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by Glass Eye Pix
Written and directed by Larry Fessenden
114 minutes, 2019, Not Rated
Premiered at What the Fest!? on March 20th, 2019
David Call as Henry
Joshua Leonard as Polidori
Alex Breaux as Adam
Ana Kayne as Liz
Chloë Levine as Lucy
Owen Campbell as Alex
What’s the most influential and timeless story in the history of horror literature? If you said Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus you wouldn’t get much argument. Always ripe for adaptation/reinterpretation, the 1818 novel is at a giant of the genre. Enter Larry Fessenden, genre auteur and respected all-around badass responsible for the criminally underrated films Wendigo and Habit.
Henry (David Call; The Sinner) was a combat medic in the War on Terror. His best friend, John Polidori (Joshua Leonard; The Blair Witch Project), works for a massive pharmaceutical company run by his father-in-law. Together they’re secretly testing a new drug (nicknamed Rap-X) with the ability to reanimate and repair the dead on a homemade and homespun cadaver. Inside that cadaver, named Adam (Alex Breaux; Bushwick), is the brain of Alex (Owen Campbell; Super Dark Times). Alex was murdered in a random street crime on the way home from a night spent with the love of his life, Lucy (Chloë Levine; The Ranger). He awakens to find he’s now The Monster, haunted by memories of a former life and trying to understand a world that fears him.
The story of Frankenstein is a funny one. The dominant imagery in popular culture is of The Monster; bolts in his neck, laced with stitches, ghoulishly green and terrifying. The source material, however, is about Victor Frankenstein and the consequences of playing God with creation. What Fessenden has done is focus on the monster that everyone is so obsessed with and let the hideous light of his misfortune shine a light on the real monsters – the men who play God with reckless abandon. It’s a subversion to return to the original source and plays wonderfully with a familiar tale.
Depraved wins you over instantly with a stellar cast. David Call echoes all the frenzied, passionate energy of Colin Clive in the 1931 film (with a nod to the Henry name!). He’s tormented and determined, a sympathetic force who’s ultimately corrupted by the representative of big money in Polidori. Joshua Leonard knocks it out of the park – he’s greasily charismatic and despicable. His own wife can’t stand him, and you won’t be able to either. The standout is Alex Breaux as Adam a.k.a. The Monster. He’s a physical presence, sure…but as his childlike beginnings are shaped in the images of his creators, your fear for him combines electrically with a lovely sense of mounting dread. You know the snap is coming, and you know it’s going to be bad.
Larry Fessenden doesn’t produce work prolifically (his last movie, the absurdly fun Beneath, was in 2013), but when he does, he damn sure makes it count! He’s throwing everything at you (proverbial kitchen sink included): sexual tension, grisly gore, trippy VFX, smooth musical accompaniment, and imagery that sticks. He also gives you raw, real characters without a hint of cliché in extraordinary situations, and that is where great horror starts.
He also doesn’t shy away from the not-so-subtle. There are moments of subliminal beauty, like Adam’s physical transformation from truly horrific creature to reasonably attractive man then back to monster or the childlike wonder of his ride through the Big Apple. Soon enough, you’re slapped with scenes like Adam’s night of strip club partying with hedonistic Polidori, which is a day-glo sleazeshow as the pulsing music proclaims, “I am alive!” It’s a dizzying mix, and the near two-hour runtime blows by.
By giving you the experience through the captive brain of poor Alex in the patchwork body of poor Adam, Fessenden insists that you ask yourself if it’s really nature or nurture. The interpretation is entirely yours, but you will get both sides of the coin for close examination.
Depraved is Fessenden’s strongest creation to date and one of the best takes on the tale of the Modern Prometheus ever produced. The question is this: does even Larry Fessenden himself realize the power and relevance of the monster that he’s created?
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