Horror hero Larry Fessenden makes his welcome return to the director’s chair with Depraved, which naturally he also wrote, produced, and makes a small cameo in. The flick is a Frankenstein story for the modern age, replete with ruminations on humanity and sexual deviancy, and sprinkled with plenty of gross-out body horror. It’s rough around the edges but scrappy and inherently likeable — much like the great man himself.
The story begins with a young couple, Lucy and Alex (The Ranger‘s Chloe Levine and Super Dark Times’ Owen Campbell), having sex, dinner, and eventually an argument about whether or not they want to have kids some day. He storms out, leaving her to clean up through tears, only to get jumped and stabbed almost to death on the walk home. Next thing Alex knows, he’s waking up on a makeshift operating table, with different body parts sewn onto him.
Alex is then rechristened Adam (but not for the reasons you think), as actor Alex Breaux (Bushwick) takes over from Campbell, by his ostensible creator, Henry (The Magicians star David Call). The two develop a sort of father-son relationship as Henry teaches Adam how to eat, speak, think, and act like a real boy. Er, man. But what’s the end game here? And what does your man from The Blair Witch Project have to do with this “project”?
Depraved does quite a lot with very little. Most of the action takes place in a glorified warehouse but, although Henry is impatient with Adam, Fessenden doesn’t rush through things to cover his low-budget tracks. The makeup and SFX are hugely effective, from the gruesomely real stitching on Adam’s sewn-together body to his one milky Marilyn Manson eye. Fessenden’s Monster kind of looks like Richard O’Brien, at least at first, but Breaux’s movements are too robotic to ever flirt with dance.
As is standard with these kinds of stories, Depraved is more about the mad scientist behind the creation than the creation itself. Fessenden establishes an interesting good cop/bad cop dynamic with Breaux and the dastardly Polidori — a name so strikingly odd it must be a reference to legendary vampire enthusiast and physician John William Polidori — played by The Blair Witch Project‘s Joshua Leonard, looking even farther from his most famous character than he did in last year’s Unsane.
Here, Leonard ditches the nerdy glasses and adopts a mop of sandy-colored hair. He’s wide-eyed and pompous, hoovering up lines of coke and pawing at poor Adam in a strip club to ensure he’s having the proper physical reaction to his new environment. Henry’s nerves are deadened by PTSD, but he wants to do the right thing, at least on some level. Polidori, on the other hand, is completely unhinged.
When things do eventually go off the rails, the blame should be placed squarely at Polidori’s feet, even if he’s not the type to ever take responsibility. Throughout Depraved, Fessenden utilizes splashy graphics to signify Adam’s brain-firing activity. For the most part, they’re not strictly necessary, but when Polidori forces his creation to snort cocaine with him, they illustrate the effects of the drug to a disconcerting, fascinating extent.
This is a very different role for Leonard, even though he’s still technically playing the villain. He’s a captivating, and intriguingly strange screen presence and it’s nice to see him given more to do here than even in Unsane, which was an equally great showcase for his unique talents. Breaux, too, does a good job playing a damaged man torn between his morality and his cause. Nobody in Depraved is 100 percent good or bad, but everybody is human.
I almost wish we’d spent more time with Alex and indeed Lucy (Levine is wasted here, but it’s still great to see her onscreen regardless) prior to the big transformation, because once he becomes Adam, there’s very little connecting The Monster to his previous incarnation. The creation’s struggle to understand his place in the world would have had more emotional weight if we knew his past life a bit better — particularly considering Alex goes from discussing kids to, essentially, regressing back to being one himself.
Depraved draws obvious comparisons to Bernard Rose’s devastating, and criminally underrated, Frankenstein from 2015. There, Xavier Samuel played The Monster with an uncanny sadness. Fessenden’s Adam is a shaggier creation, but his plight is no less compelling for it. His story hints at a greater mythology and a darker world just beyond the edges of society where all kinds of untold horrors likely exist.
With any luck, the great man will get to explore some of those threads next time he heads behind the camera. Hopefully, we won’t have too long to wait.
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Larry Fessenden
Writer(s): Larry Fessenden
Stars: David Call, Joshua Leonard, Alex Breaux, Ana Kayne, Maria Dizzia, Chloë Levine, Owen Campbell and Addison Timlin
Release Date: March 21, 2019 (WTF Fest)
Studio/ Production Co: Glass Eye Pix
Length: 104 minutes
Sub-Genre: Body horror