25th Aug2019

Frightfest 2019: ‘Depraved’ Review

by Chris Cummings

Stars: David Call, Alex Breaux, Joshua Leonard, Ana Kayne, Maria Dizzia, Chloë Levine, Owen Campbell, Addison Timlin, Chris O’Connor, Alice Barrett, Jack Fessenden, James Tam, Zilong Zee, Noah Le Gros | Written and Directed by Larry Fessenden


Larry Fessenden (Wendigo) goes back to his monster drawing-board to tell a modern-day Frankenstein story about a man named Henry, a medic with PTSD, who makes a guy out of body parts and, yep… you guessed it… he’s alive. ALIVE. Fessenden is no stranger to the topic, and he handles it well. Bringing the famous tale of Frankensteins Monster to modern times, using psychological horror, mental illness and science to do so. Apparently Depraved, a passion project for Fessenden that he’d been sitting on for a long time, was shot on the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s famous literary classic. Fitting, then, and indeed you can see plenty of the concepts that Shelley conceived in this film yet in a more grimy and off-kilter way, using our current-day world to frame it all.

We see Henry, played by David Call (Tiny Furniture), almost immediately murder a guy and transplant his brain into the body of his creepy corpse mosaic that he keeps in his home-slash-warehouse. We then meet the monster itself, named Adam, played by Alex Breaux (Bushwick), a grotesque amalgamation of various body parts from various different bodies, who wakes up, stands to his feet and breaths his first breaths. Breaux plays Adam less like the zombie-esque green-headed monster we know and love from the Universal Era, but instead with a robotic style, like he’s powered as much by a hard-drive as he is the brain of the bloke Henry just stabbed to death. He reminded me a little of the “Adam” from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, weirdly enough.

There’s a frequent use of animated digital effects that I feel the film would have benefited from losing some of. It worked at times, such as during the hallucinations we see from Adam on occasion, but there are other times I feel it is over-used, from the shards of lightening to the flickering translucent shapes that drift across the screen while Adam is in a haze or someone is dying. It’s a little strange and pulled me out of the film at times. I understand the reason that this aspect was here,, pushing the confusion and bewilderment of the characters, especially Adam and what he was feeling inside, but I felt like it could have been toned down more, and used a lot less. That aside, though, I thought it was visually fine. There’s a definite ambition, not just visually but in the story that Fessenden is telling, and it something falls short a little, feeling a touch one-dimensional. I did enjoy the story though, regardless of its limitations. It’s independent cinema with a voice and a vision, and while I don’t think it always works, it certainly has plenty of charm. The creativity is abundant, and the performances, specifically those of Call and Breaux, are really food. Adam, the stumbling monster, and Henry, his excitable and damaged creator.

Depraved is certainly at its strongest when it focuses on the relationship between man and monster, creator and creation, Henry and Adam themselves. There are various obstacles and side-characters that, for lack of a better term, interfere with us seeing this bizarre bond, from Henry’s girlfriend to Polidori, played by Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project). The side-characters, in my view, seemed more of a hindrance to what could have been, rather than an assistance to the film’s progress and development. I appreciated the way Fessenden, aware that everyone and their neighbour knows Shelley’s story, decided to instead focus on a more nurturing relationship between Henry and Adam. It was less about regret and rage and more about sadness and the struggle to bond. It’s less about science, in the end, than it is about family, a strange tale of father and son, told through monster and man-who-created-monster.

Fessenden cannot be accused of not being creative and not finding unique ways to deliver existing stories in very unique ways. Depraved does that, and while there are certainly elements I found to be sluggish or visually unappealing, I still enjoyed the way he chose to tell this tale, and the characters he created in doing so. Henry, played compassionately yet tortured and Adam, played with monstrous naivety and a quiet intensity. I thought they, easily, were the strongest element of Depraved, above story, above anything else.

A comic-style monster tale, Depraved delivers in some ways and stumbles a little in others, but is mostly a strong, unconventional, intimate and sincere story that shows the passion Fessenden has in his subject matter.

*** 3/5

Depraved screened at Arrow Video Frightfest on Sunday August 25th 2019.


Comments are closed.