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DEPRAVED: A New Frankenstein Monster Can’t Get Off the Table

Depraved (2019)
Written and Directed by Larry Fessenden
Produced by Larry Fessenden, Chadd Harbold, Jenn Wexler
Rated R

Every generation has its Frankenstein’s Monster. Depraved is an uneven take on the genre for this one. In every iteration of the story, it is most interesting when the monster is the sympathetic character and the creator becomes the villain because of their motivating hubris. It becomes a story of misunderstanding and overreach, and how each destroys that which possessed it. Depraved explores this with mixed results despite some clear effort that is on the screen.  The film was directed by Larry Fessenden, and had its world premier on March 20th at What the Fest!? in New York.

Alex Breaux as The Creature, Adam

Depraved begins with Alex (Owen Campbell) leaving his girlfriend, Lucy (Chloë Levine), after a wonderful night, only to be attacked and murdered in the street. He awakens as Adam (Alex Breaux), the stitched together creature, and he’s confused and frightened. Adam’s creator, Henry (David Call), initially seems only interested in deeming his experiment a success or a failure, failing to see the life he has created. Henry’s backer, Polidori (Joshua Leonard), cares only for the money he’ll make, setting up the conflict between the two men that will inevitably unleash the wrath of the creature.

Most notable in this presentation of the stitched-together man is the makeup. As fans of shows like Face-Off, where you watch the process of building a makeup and its critique, we saw a monster so exquisitely made up that the effect was better than movies with ten times the budget. This was important, because seeing a seam or an edge that shouldn’t be there would immediately have ruined the effect.  Credit to makeup and creature design by Peter Gerner and Brian Spears.

That said, in this age of awareness, the creature does suffer from #monstersowhite. This could have been a deliberate choice so that the pieced-together creature could still move about in society without seeming totally out of place, but it brings me to one of our biggest challenges with the movie. Instead of electricity, the McGuffin of Depraved is big pharma. The creature is created to prove a drug works. This is challenging because why would they need to put multiple bodies together? Why not just two? Why did they need to transplant the brain and not just the head? These two men fail to see how garish their experiment is and how they will be perceived should their board of directors ever meet Adam.

There are some moments, however, that nod successfully back to the 1931 James Whale adaptation. Adam gets out on his own and stumbles into a bar – a local watering hole – where he meets Shelley (Addison Timlin). She is wearing a flower-print blouse and reluctantly befriends Alex. Just like with the little girl, who offers flowers to the monster in the movie, things go unintentionally poor for Shelly.

Though the film does have a few successes, where it failed to connect with us was in its human characters. Dialogue was stiff and clunky. The desire to explain the pharmaceutical connection became an overwrought red herring, as was using Henry’s PTSD as his motivation to save lives.  Polidori takes Adam out for a day of “culture” and spends the entire montage monologuing at a level that would make a super villain blush. While it is true that individuals capable of murdering and resurrecting others for profit are generally not good people, the sociopathic coldness makes them inaccessible to the audience as drivers of the story. It is telling that the actor given the least dialogue, Breaux, gives the most human performance

Once all the characters have interacted with Adam and he begins to remember his previous life as Alex, Depraved wraps up with the sorrowful tragedy of similar movies.

While Depraved offers sparks of brilliance, in the end, this creature doesn’t get off the table.

Jason Nadler

grew up consuming a nutritious diet of Barker and King, Clarke and Asimov. Supplements of Star Wars and Star Trek, Conan and Highlander. Snacks included Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, Amazing Stories and Twilight Zone. It doesn't matter if it's aliens, dragons, body snatchers, witches or wizards, a compelling story is what he's after. When not impersonating an adult, he can often be found reading, watching shows or movies, and occasionally travelling. Oh, and writing. Lots of writing! He's written several speculative fiction and fantasy novels. Look for JH Nadler on most major platforms.

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