by Steven Wandling
Genre auteur/legend Larry Fessenden (Habit, Beneath) returns to the director’s chair for his first full-length in six years for a modern re-telling of Mary Shelley’s classic Gothic masterpiece Frankenstein (1818) with Depraved. This is exactly the type of film that will make you fall in love with the beauty and poetry of cinema all over again. Larry Fessenden is an artist as important as any living filmmaker. He is a true renaissance man; known for his directing, producing, writing, and acting. Depraved is a testament to his powers behind the camera. His company, Glass Eye Pix, has become legendary in the horror genre for not only consistently putting out brilliant genre films, but also for backing exciting new talent like the producer of Depraved, writer-director of The Ranger (2018), Jenn Wexler.
Depraved expertly updates Shelley in what gets my vote for best Frankenstein adaptation of all time. Moving the tale of a mad scientist hell bent on bringing the dead back to life into modern times could have been a disaster of a film in the wrong hands. But in the hands of a master like Fessenden, audiences should prepare themselves for a film that runs the gamut of human emotion and has a lot to say about life, death, love, sex, and monsters.
Depraved opens with a quick, but effective scene that features familiar genre faces Chloe Levine (The Ranger) and Owen Campbell (Super Dark Times) as young lovers Lucy and Alex. They’re just like any other young couple trying to figure things out in the world. They’ve just moved in together, and the stress is obviously bothering Alex. They have a very normal couples fight that unfortunately leads to what appears to be a random mugging/stabbing that kills Alex outside their apartment. The film almost immediately flashes forward to Adam (Alex Breaux) waking up for the first time: Depraved‘s version of Frankenstein’s monster.
There are many visual elements to this movie that are beautiful beyond words. The film shows, in a type of sensory light show, how Adam’s brain processes death, love, sound, and learning. The sequences are original, gorgeous to look at, and wonderfully interspersed throughout the first act of the film as Henry (David Call), Depraved‘s version of Doctor Frankenstein, attempts to teach Adam how to be human again. One of the most magical cinematic moments sees Henry realizing that the synapses in Adam’s brain have been re-wired to learn through music as opposed to speech. The visions are surreal yet scientific and seem ripped from an H.P. Lovecraft (“Herbert West: Reanimator”) fever dream. Henry fathers Adam to the best of his abilities, but as pointed out long after its been expertly shown, he is an amazing doctor, yet severely lacking as a father.
One of the strongest elements of Depraved is that the film is based on a novel from 1818 and doesn’t deviate that much in its narrative, yet manages to be entirely engaging and seem wholly new and modern. Depraved works because Fessenden shows that the themes in Mary Shelley’s novel are indeed beyond timeless. All of the trappings of Frankenstein imagery, in large part lodged in the public psyche thanks to James Whale’s classic Universal films, are either brought into reality or eschewed altogether for a more human, and ultimately, terrifying tale: the cartoonishly maniacal doctor, the dungeon lab, the white lab coat, the hunchbacked Igor, the Universal gothic atmosphere of Hollywood’s golden age have all been replaced by a film that’s populated with real people living in a lonely, isolated modern world.
The good times could never last between Henry and Adam. After all, all sons eventually want to destroy their fathers as all fathers eventually grow weary of their creations. The film smartly introduces Adam and Henry first and focuses on their relationship, really building on the human element that helps sell the tragedy so much better when the final bloody shoe drops in the third act. Everything nefarious that Henry and Polidori (a scene stealing Joshua Leonard), the sleazy business man that is funding Henry’s projects (and procuring him fresh specimens) is found out later in the film through Adam’s eyes. The audience gets to experiences this ultimate betrayal and loss of what self Adam had achieved at the most empathetic of levels. It’s gut wrenching, and truly the making of a monster.
Before things start to go awry Polidori decides that Adam needs to get out of Henry’s loft, so he takes him out for a day into the streets of Manhattan. This entire sequence is one of the most beautiful I have seen in any film, regardless of genre, this year or any in recent memory. It’s absolutely breathtaking to see Adam going through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with the cultured yet cynical Polidori as his guide on a crash course in history as told through art. No words in a review could possibly do the combination of social commentary from Polidori, the awestruck child-like wonder of Adam, and the beautiful filmmaking justice. It’s something that should really be seen and is worth the price of admission alone.
The changes that Fessenden has brought to the classic tale all make sense and don’t do anything but make the story, not simply more modern, but tie in a lot of the classic themes with characters whose intentions can at least be somewhat identified with by a modern audience. Henry, Polidori, and Adam are all products of the world that made them.
Henry was a promising doctor that could never get over the trauma he faced as an Army field doctor in the Middle East. He carried all of that home with him the way that so many soldiers do. Polidori is a likable yet soulless suit who may have once had principles, but traded those in long ago to be part of the wealthy upper crust. Adam was made by these two sad, lonely, and failed individuals. His entire notion of what it meant to be human was based on the flawed teachers of two lying deranged murderers, who brought him back in a cruel world he doesn’t fully understand.
The most uplifting part of Depraved is the love story between Alex and Lucy, which is the DNA that makes up the heart of this story at its core. Even after death, if there is any part of you that still exists, how could the love you have for another individual not still be there? Adam is plagued with nightmares of Lucy’s face and memories that he shouldn’t have, that aren’t exactly his. Or are they?
The final act of Depraved goes straight horrorshow to such a degree that it would make Mary Shelley very proud. There’s the sense in this movie that people that attempt to play God usually end up one of the damned, which hearkens straight back to Frankenstein. The question of who the real monsters are and why in Depraved is definitely revealed, but one that Fessenden already knows that most audiences will already know the answer to.
In his expert new film, Larry Fessenden does more than just modernize Mary Shelley. He has blessed us with a classic tale that seems new again, begging the viewer to ask questions about the very essence of what is or isn’t human, and by extension human behavior. Depraved is a film that excels every step of the way and proves that the dark beating heart of Shelley is as important as it ever was, if not achingly more so.
Larry Fessenden’s Depraved is in select theaters and on various VOD platforms now! Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed the article, please share with your horror loving friends! Give us a follow on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook! If you want to write for creepylovely, just shoot us a private message or DM on social media! Stay creepy!