Stylish Frankenstein treatment with social themes and complex characters, from the mind of horror maestro Larry Fessenden.
Even if you’ve not read the book, seen one of the myriad films, or watched the National Theatre play, you probably know the gist of the Frankenstein story. The images and characters are so ingrained in popular culture, that they are easy to find in parodies, spoofs, and even episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Doctor Who. So surely, only a Depraved filmmaker would attempt yet another angle?
Not so. Writer/director/editor/producer Larry Fessenden has been involved in the film industry for over thirty years and a devout admirer of Universal Monsters; he knows his stuff. Fessenden’s Depraved is set firmly in his native New York and follows young Alex (Owen Campbell) from an argument about parenthood with his loving girlfriend Lucy (Chloë Levine) to waking up in confusion on a laboratory table. He meets Henry (David Call), not much older but way wiser, who has assembled parts of him with parts of other people to make “Adam” (Alex Breaux), listed also as The Monster in the closing credits. From there, the plot follows some familiar turns and some original; what’s most interesting is that the majority of it follows the monster’s viewpoint, or at least shows consideration for it.
As horror films go, Depraved is definitely an interesting rather than exciting one, and not just in that respect. I don’t mean that dismissively at all: I prefer entertainment to have some intelligence stitched into it, as Adam has. With the wealth of myths and symbolism throughout its influences, the horror genre is ideally placed to take classic stories and say something new with them. In a film like this, there are many layers to observe and enjoy, whether it’s the literary adaptation, the messages about capitalism, trauma, or fatherhood, the visual elements, the characters, or the acting.
The character of Adam, and Breaux’s portrayal of him, were what really made it for me. Adam isn’t shocked at his scarred and misshapen appearance: he knows no different, he’s completely a blank slate. Henry and his friend/investor Polidori (Joshua Leonard) guide him in their own ways, Henry with education and Polidori with culture. Adam laps it all up and it’s fascinating to see his eyes widen to everything the world offers. With a gradual loss of ignorance comes curiosity and a loss of innocence too, and there is both fury and hurt when he learns about himself.
Depraved is a sparingly gory film: it’s much more about misguided people than about the injuries they inflict. That said, Adam’s story as a whole is an emotional one… and I’m struggling to say more about that without giving away details. Back to the effects, though; which aren’t just about injuries and stitches: the film also features some beautiful flickering colors which serve to demonstrate how differently Adam’s mind works, a mind which is also trying to navigate memories and a need to belong. All these aspects are edited together with care: Fessenden clearly cares for his creation much more than Henry does. I’ve read one opinion that the graphics and the gritty city contrast too much, but to me, that contrast is apt: Adam can’t exactly fit in either.
Depraved had a successful UK premiere at FrightFest last year and is now about to become the next Shudder Exclusive.