DEPRAVED opened 2019’s What The Fest!? in New York with a sold-out showing. As the other festival-goers and I queued up on 6th Avenue outside the IFC Center, a trombonist and a drummer began playing upbeat music. The cast and crew milled around enjoying the festivities; director Larry Fessenden posed for photos below the marquee.
After a brief introduction and the ceremonial hanging of WTF!?’s giant pink eyeball, the night began. A short film by Fessenden highlighting the Frankenstein mythos from the early 1900’s to present self-consciously asked the unspoken question: do we really need another Frankenstein movie?
The modern retelling of the story follows Henry, a young veteran who is trying to prove the effectiveness of a radical new medicine. With the help of his boss Polidori, Henry gives Alex (randomly chosen for their experiment) renewed life with a patch-work of limbs and a new name—Adam.
The experienced cast of DEPRAVED, many of whom attended the screening, includes David Call, Joshua Leonard, Alex Breaux, Ana Kayne and Maria Dizzia. There is nuanced acting from all involved, but Alex Breaux steals the show with his performance as the captivating, tortured monster.
A few of the nods to the original Frankenstein are corny: there’s a character named Shelley, certainly named after author Mary Shelley, and Polidori refers to himself as Igor to Henry’s Dr. Frankenstein. But self-awareness is key, and with fresh themes of parenthood, ethics, sex, art, and philosophy, DEPRAVED stands apart from previous adaptations. Watch for a scene which takes place in the Metropolitan Museum of Art where Polidori briefly explains the history of humanity and art, it’s just stunning.
Overlays of brightly colored blurs beautifully depict Alex’s brain synapses firing. Stylish stop-motion photography and anatomical sketches flashing across the screen blend seamlessly with the other camerawork. Frequent flashbacks are used to show glimpses of Alex’s old life. All of the technical aspects are great, from the gruesome makeup to the excellent sound design.
Watching Adam rediscover the joys and agonies of life is moving, a reminder of just how easily one can lose everything. The third act is a bit rushed and over-explained, but the movie overall is gloriously creepy.
As it turns out, we absolutely do need a film like DEPRAVED. Leave it to Fessenden, a seasoned actor, producer and director, to craft a modern-day love letter to the historic legend of Frankenstein.