Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has remained one of literature’s greatest stories. It almost poetic that a story about life after death should continue to be so relevant and relatable some 200 years later. The mad doctor’s creation, though tragically monstrous and very un-human, spends his short life experiencing the most human of emotions: alienation and loneliness. It’s that life-experience that has helped The Creature become the most universal of all monsters. Every generation understands the isolation of The Creature. Every generation feels the desperate need for understanding of The Creation. And every generation has re-told the story of The Monster, pieced together from details of their own world.
Larry Fessenden’s Depraved might be the definitive modern Frankenstein film. Yeah, sure, that’s going to change in a decade when another incredible adaptation comes along that perfectly captures life in 2029, but for the time being, Depraved is where it’s at. Fessenden does more than cherry pick slice-of-life moments to update Shelley’s classic story. He makes use of our technological advancements and understanding of the human brain to tell a story from and for a 2019 audience that has grown up with the Frankenstein mythos firmly embedded into our culture.
After an emotionally charged fight with his girlfriend Lucy (Chloe Levine, The Ranger), Alex (Owen Campbell, Super Dark Times) wanders home alone through the dark city streets. Distracted by his phone, he doesn’t see an attacker running toward him with a knife until it’s too late. What feels like seconds later, Alex wakes up on a surgical table but when he finds the strength to look at himself in the mirror, he doesn’t recognize the face looking back at him. It’s a bold move, and only one that we fully recognize after a hundred years of freshly dead brains placed in the skulls of patchwork cadavers. As moviegoers, we’ve all memorized the instruction manual for the Do-It-Yourself Home Reanimation Kit. The knee bone’s connected the hip bone, be sure not to use the brain of a homicidal maniac, and bake at 3600 degrees (preferably with lightning) until alive.
The construction of The Creature is always such a centerpiece in Frankenstein films because the story is told from the perspective of Doctor Frankenstein. Unlike it’s predecessors, Depraved is told entirely through the eyes of The Creature, played by Alex Breaux. We don’t see his construction (the surgery) because he was never conscious for it. It’s a choice that completely upends our understanding of Frankenstein but it allows you to see a familiar story through new eyes. Someone else’s eyes, even…
Oh, and P.S.- If you thought The Creature was a tragic character who didn’t deserve anything that happened to him, just wait until you’re standing shoulder to shoulder with him while he has his heart broken, comes to grips with his own existence, or feels the weight of his creator reject and betray him.
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Henry, our “Mr. Frankenstein“, is a very different type of mad scientist. He is as desperate to conquer death as every iteration before him but his mania comes from two violent and brutal tours in the Iraq War. As a battlefield medic, he slowly perfected his methods after many unsuccessful attempts to save the lives of young men and women shot down in action. Suffering from PTSD, Henry (like so many men and women returning home from the war) is essentially the closest our world has come to a living, breathing Frankenstein Monster. His brain has suffered a severe trauma, and he can no longer associate himself. Sure, he isn’t running from an angry, pitchfork-carrying mob, but he is very much alone, and scared of the world around him.
A surprising moment that sets Henry apart, is that when he first sees his creation, when The Creature suddenly comes to life and is standing before him, his first reaction is to give him a name. There is a good reason why he is only ever referred to as The Creature, or Frankenstein’s Monster. No one ever names him! From birth he is rejected by his father and cast aside to find his place in the world alone. Henry, on the other hand, protects and takes care of his creation. He struggles with the weight of that responsibility, but it isn’t until the introduction of Henry’s financial backer, Polidori (Joshua Leonard), that The Creature, growing in strength and intelligence, becomes an uncontrollable burden to Henry.
Every previous creature was made to feel shame and disgust as soon as they came into existence. The creature in Depraved finds some degree of acceptance, but only long enough for him to be able to fully understand the depths of darkness that exist in the hearts of man. But this creature also has something that no other creature before him had: Henry’s lab recordings. Think about that for second. In the moment that he finds those recordings he becomes the only living creature to witness its own creation. That’s an existential crisis I don’t even want to get into, but seeing his previous self carelessly discarded and salvaged for parts utterly destroys him.
Depraved is a Frankenstein story, but it is a very different Frankenstein story. Of course, if a classic creature-on-the-loose feature is a must, know that Depraved slowly evolves into a picture-perfect, thunder & lightning, gothic tale. Sure, the film’s budget is visible at times but no expense was spared on the design of the monster himself. Every scar, every stitch is realistically gnarly and a roadmap of references and homage to every monster that came before him. Depraved is a unique film all its own with characters and set pieces unlike any other before it but The Creature (the true core of this story) is your connection to the past, stitched together from over 200 years of artistry to create something that walks it’s own path.
Depraved celebrated its world premiere at What The Fest!? 2019 with worldwide sales rights picked up by Yellow Veil Pictures (Luz, Starfish). Depraved is written/directed/produced/edited by Larry Fessenden and stars David Call (The Magicians), Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project), Alex Breaux, Ana Kayne, Maria Dizzia (Piercing), Owen Campbell (Super Dark Times), and Chloe Levine (The Ranger). The film is not currently scheduled for future screening but will no doubt be making appearances at a film festival near you.