A disillusioned field surgeon suffering from PTSD makes a man out of body parts and brings him to life in a Brooklyn loft.
Larry Fessenden’s DEPRAVED takes a spin with the conventions of a tried and true Frankenstein story in American culture’s current moment. What would otherwise be a tired reinterpretation of something we’ve seen a hundred times, DEPRAVED processes the relationship between trauma, technology, and the pharmaceutical industry in light of the Iraq War.
DEPRAVED is about Harry (David Call), a former army field surgeon suffering from PTSD, who brings a man he calls Adam (Alex Breaux) to life in a Brooklyn loft. The drug he uses to sustain Adamalong with the various body parts required to build a manare supplied by the eccentric Polidori (Joshua Leonard), a pharmaceutical executive. Blinded by his trauma, Harry looks the other way when the parts needed to build Adam are procured through illegal means. While Harry struggles to accept his creation, Adam’s brain starts to piece together its past life. At times deeply reflective, DEPRAVED tells a complex story while keeping the tone relatively even keel.
Besides the main players, the cast of characters in DEPRAVED is rather large. Like the vast majority of films, some casting choices work in these roles and some feel out of place. Alex Breaux, in particular, is absolutely fantastic in his role as Adam/The Monster; he is tender and his gestures are carefully calculated. Chloë Levine, who plays the girlfriend of the man who provided Adam’s brain, also brings a high degree of measure to her performance. Meanwhile, Joshua Leonard doesn’t really sell his parts of the script. Leonard has been quite strong in past performances (Bates Motel comes to mind), which means that he probably was miscast or trying to lean into some Philip Seymour Hoffman thing that just wasn’t working. Despite the casting inconsistencies, the acting in DEPRAVED is neither painful nor overwrought.
Written, directed, and edited by Fessenden, DEPRAVED is about as auteur as a horror film can get these days. The editing is perhaps the best thing Fessenden brought to the film. Here, there is a playful use of color and overlays that add nuanced layers to the internal experiences of the characters. Aspects of the script and the overall design of the movie, though, could have used a bit more tweaking. The more philosophical parts of the film, especially those about art, come off as far more polemical than they need to be. And the obvious changes in the grain of the film in certain spaces like The Met and The Strand bookstore left me wondering whether the production was actually allowed to shoot in these locations. Also, why are there so many lamps in this loft and how are these people covering up their misdeeds if they’re leaving a literal trail of blood behind them? I’m all for style, but many choices had me too hung up on what should have been mundane details. I never reached the point of frustration where I took a break from the film, but clearer collaboration on future projects would actually give Fessenden more control over his craft.
Clocking in at just under two hours, DEPRAVED moves quickly and goes down easy. While it sometimes misses the mark, it is a far better re-mything of Frankenstein than anything big-budget Hollywood has brought our way in the last decade or three. DEPRAVED premiered last night for the opening of this year’s What the Fest!? and sets the bar pretty high for the rest of the festival.