A former Army medic suffering from PTSD, Henry (David Call) hopes to save lives by bringing dead bodies back to life. He is beside himself with joy when he comes home to his makeshift Brooklyn lab to find that his latest experiment, a cadaver fitted with new body parts, has gotten off its gurney. He names the man Adam (Alex Breaux), but Henry’s impatience with his intellectual and emotional development suggests he is not ready for fatherhood. Adam is being prepared for the world by a man who thinks humankind is “Depraved.”
Writer/director/producer/editor Larry Fessenden modernized the vampire story with “Habit,” equating the thirst for blood with addiction. His Native American Indian spirit horror, "Wendigo," took on gun culture and modern masculinity while "The Last Winter’s” spooks addressed environmentalism. With his updating of the Frankenstein legend, the filmmaker indicts Big Pharma while probing the need for a generational shift in society’s moral values. And as usual, Fessenden does a lot with a little, combining ingenious shots with a psychological sound design, all complemented with an emotionally rich score by Will Bates.
“Depraved” begins with a prologue which establishes the source of Adam’s brain and the film’s fatherhood theme. 23 year-old Alex (Owen Campbell) is about to move in with Lucy (Chloë Levine). His care for his dementia afflicted grandmother causes her to make an innocent remark about what a good father he will make, causing him to melt down with anxiety about being pushed into something he is not ready for. Lucy gifts him with a symbolic pendant for his birthday, but Alex never makes it home, stabbed to death on the street.
Memories of both women, the grandmother dancing in a hospital corridor and Lucy’s proffering her gift, will haunt Adam as his consciousness gains ground. Henry uses puzzles, then ping pong, for Adam’s development, but it is music that stitches those synapses and Adam begins to progress more quickly. But Henry cannot hide his creation forever. His girlfriend Liz (Ana Kayne)
arrives when he’s not around, exposing Adam to his first woman and Henry to his first conflict. Then business partner John Polidori (Joshua Leonard, "Humpday," "Unsane") begins to fast track things, taking Adam out for irresponsible, hedonistic exposure to Manhattan. The conflicts among these three, especially Henry and Polidori, cause Adam to question their integrity.
Fessenden’s layered so much subtext into his story. We find “Bride of Frankenstein” in the characters of Liz and later, the aptly-named Shelley (Addison Timlin), a woman Adam picks up in a bar to be his own. (If you think Adam is named Biblically, you’d be incorrect, the name choice revealed in a battlefield flashback. John William Polidori, however, had the first vampire story published almost 80 years before Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula.’) Polidori, who married into money in the form of pharmaceutical heiress Georgina (Maria Dizzia), will do anything to ensure their RapX pills are part of Henry’s plan. Violence is pervasive, from Henry’s war time trauma to every work of art Polidori exposes Adam to at The Met, backing up that titular denouncement.
The film has a distinctive look, Fessenden using a ping pong table for some disorienting effects, layering animated blood cells, brain scans and lightning bolts over his action. The film’s climax takes place in a Hudson Valley manse, the home of John and Georgina, during a dark and stormy night, one in which Adam, his pant legs just the right awkward length, emerges from a fresh grave in flashes of light. Alex Breaux shades his performance beautifully among blank slate, eager learner and disillusionment. Also fine in a small role is Timlin as the brash blonde drawn to Adam for his weirdness and resemblance to Iggy Pop. If there is a flaw in “Depraved” it is with the two actors who portray his mentors. Call is an awkward combination of sympathetic war veteran and callous father figure while Leonard, the most well known actor here, plays between the choices of subtlety or over-the-top villainy his role screams out for.
“Depraved” is the best interpretation of the Frankenstein story since James Whale immortalized it in 1931.
Robin gives "Depraved" a B.
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