2019, NR, 114 min. Directed by Larry Fessenden. Starring David Call, Joshua Leonard, Alex Breaux, Ana Kayne.
REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., Sept. 27, 2019
Want to make a name for yourself in the horror industry? Hitch your wagon to Larry Fessenden. No matter which hat Fessenden happens to be wearing at the moment – writer, director, actor, producer, or editor – the filmmaker’s gift for blending mythology with independent horror makes him one of the most important talents of our generation. For those who loved movies like The Last Winter or Wendigo, Depraved is more of the same in the best possible way.
The last thing that Alex (Super Dark Times' Owen Campbell) remembers is bleeding to death in a Manhattan alley. When he wakes up, he is Adam (Breaux), a hulking mass of scars and stitches with only a few flashes of the past to his name. Adam has been given life by Henry (Call), a triage surgeon struggling to find inner peace after a violent tour of duty in the Middle East. Ready to start again with a clean slate, Henry sets about teaching Adam the beauties of the world, including the music of Beethoven and the game of pingpong. But when wealthy investor Polidori (Leonard) arrives and demands to see to the status of his creation, Adam slowly realizes that his birth is anything but a modern miracle.
While the script does include the occasional nod to contemporary comforts, the modern Prometheus that is Depraved has no interest in conflating the messages of Mary Shelley’s novel with social media or online culture. Instead, the film speaks to a century of increasing isolation. “God is dead,” Polidori explains to Adam at one point, “and we are left alone with our technology.” Fessenden’s script draws direct parallels between parenthood and modernity, suggesting – and, eventually, overtly stating – that our inability to step outside our wants and desires dooms those who would learn from us. The criticisms here are more structural than personal; men shaped by war and money are in no position to teach morality to the childlike.
As far as fathers go, Adam could not have asked for worse, and the real standout of the film is Leonard as Polidori. Leonard understands that his character is not motivated by any one element of Henry’s research. Sure, the prestige that comes with a successful experience would mean money and acceptance in spades, but Polidori is a more complicated collection of amusement and greed. Part of him genuinely wants to help his friend; another part of him wants to be the pharmaceutical industry’s answer to Steve Jobs. His slow undermining of Henry’s influence sets the stage for the violence that follows, and Leonard plays the role like an American Eddie Izzard: clever, cutting, and a little bit bored.
And then there’s Breaux. Depraved is hardly a special effects bonanza; almost all the film’s energy comes from watching Adam puzzle his way through the emotions of those around him. Breaux breathes life (pun intended) into the character’s progression, capturing his need for human connection in the way his eyes hesitantly scan across the room. For such a tall actor – Breaux is listed at 6’3” – he also seems like the smallest person on the screen, at least until his character suddenly recognizes his strength. When taken in tandem with the film’s incredible character design for Adam, Breaux’s performance ensures that Depraved never feels like a low-rent Frankenstein remake.
At nearly two hours, Depraved can feel a little long in the tooth, especially given how often it feels less like an independent science-fiction feature and more like a drawing-room drama. Then again, the performances here are a little too strong – and the blend of gothic and contemporary storytelling a bit too seamless – for Fessenden’s film to be anything other than a treat for fans of independent horror. And let’s be honest: It’s nice to know not every modern Frankenstein adaptation needs to be about robots.For an interview with the director about the legacy of Frankenstein, read "Larry Fessenden Gets Depraved," Sept. 27.