The immortal story of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has endured over the years, being reshaped and expanded for its various eras across all sorts of mediums. Writer-director-producer-editor Larry Fessenden takes the themes from Shelley’s constantly reborn creation and injects new life in the legendary monster with Depraved, a bold reworking of the Frankenstein mythos to fit within the warped society of today. It’s not so much a scary movie as an unsettling one, a slow spiral into the darkness of man’s hubris and the horrors of unintended consequences that arise from a society dwelling in the depths of depravity.
The opening scene of Depraved almost feels like it’s from a completely different movie. A young couple are engaged in a bit of an argument about their future. Alex (Owen Campbell) and Lucy (Chloë Levine) discuss commitment and possibly parenthood before it slowly builds more contentious. Alex storms out into the streets. This short-lived domestic squabble ends as Alex wanders the city at night and is violently attacked by a stranger, dying under the neon glow of the city lights.
Alex’s corpse has its organs harvested and are used to bring Adam (Alex Breaux) to life, waking with little memory of the past and limited motor functions. He’s been brought to life by Henry (David Call), a scientist working on a groundbreaking experiment in medical science to reanimate the dead. Despite his best intentions, Henry isn’t without his own demons as he’s still suffering from PTSD after serving in overseas in the military as part of the various conflicts in the Middle East. Henry is striving to create something revolutionary for altruistic purposes. However, his financier Polidori (Joshua Leonard) can’t help but see the riches that such a discovery will yield.
Henry becomes practically a father figure to his naïve and innocent creation. Adam has to learn about life and the world through the tutelage of Henry, from language to playing ping pong. Polidori, on the other hand, wants to take Adam into the darker corners of the world, taking him out on the town for drinks at a strip club. The scientist remains skeptical over the stability of his creation while the financier is assured of its success and wants to cash in immediately. Things begin to deteriorate all around when Adam encounters Liz (Ana Kayne), an on-again off-again girlfriend of Henry whom he’s tried to keep at a distance from his creation. It’s not Liz’s fault that Adam begins to grow infatuated with his new female friend, and the moral lesson’s he’s learned over his short time reborn have been based on a warped society that teaches if you really want something you better just get out there and take it by any means necessary.
The tragedy of Depraved is the fact that Adam is reborn from death as a being of innocence. It’s not the monster’s fault that he was dropped into a world that rewards man’s greed over man’s good, and yet these are the corrupting forces that surround him. It’s the ongoing effects of an endless war that torment Henry into this dangerous experiment, a vain attempt to ease the lingering unseen scars of war. Sadly, this takes Henry further into his own darkness and that descent drags Adam down with him, creating a story that is just as much about inherited familial trauma as it is about the corrupting forces of an immoral society. The embodiment of society’s descent into complete corruption is Polidori, who gleefully profits off pharmaceutical price gouging. As Henry finds himself consumed by his own demons, Polidori fills the void with his own corrupting ways under the guise as the fun parent to this confused this innocent resurrected soul.
As fascinating Fessenden’s writing and thematic depth for Depraved is, it might actually be his direction that’s most impressive. The film has a masterful sense of tone, sometimes darkly comic, sometimes deeply unsettling, and other times heartbreakingly tragic. Fessenden can piece together his own Frankenstein’s monster of a sequence, turning something that could’ve been a mundane bit of exposition into an electrifying sequence with quick bursts of camera movements and edits that fill the frame with story information and emotion. Overall, though, it’s a slow-burn of a movie. It’s not a scare-a-minute exercise in horror, though Fessenden is just withholding the most shocking moments for the film’s climax which delivers on all the horrific potential that has been brewing since the start of Adam’s tragic journey.
Larry Fessenden’s Depraved defies expectations but still delivers a thematically rich, thoughtful and unsettling examination of Frankenstein. It’s a movie that sticks with you well after it has concluded, leaving you to ponder all the real life horrors that overshadow the terror of resurrecting the dead. We’re all products of the world that we’re born into, and Fessenden’s Depraved takes the iconic monster created and plops him into a world seemingly more off-kilter than ever before. It’s as true now as it has ever been – man is the monster.
Writer-producer-editor-director Larry Fessenden resurrects Frankenstein with Depraved, updating Mary Shelley’s horror classic with a modern twist that is thematically rich and tragically horrific.