Depraved (What the Fest!?): Larry Fessenden Creates a Millennial-Era Prometheus

Writer/director Larry Fessenden’s Depraved is a gory, thrilling modern adaptation of the Frankenstein mythos, replete with commentary on today’s society and many of its shortcomings. Like the majority of Fessenden’s directorial efforts, it’s a thinking person’s horror film, but one that pulls no punches in the visceral shocks department.

Alex (Owen Campbell of Super Dark Times [2017]) leaves the home of his girlfriend Lucy (Chloë Levine of The Transfiguration [2016] and The Ranger [2018]) after a post-coital argument in which he makes clear his not being ready for fatherhood, as their plans for moving in together soon are obviously more than he can handle at the moment. He is fatally stabbed on his walk home, after which the story moves to the makeshift laboratory of Henry (David Call), a military veteran suffering from PTSD who is going through decidedly more bizarre fatherhood issues of his own, as he is creating a life out of piecing dead body parts together. His creation, Adam (Adam Breaux), now houses Alex’s brain, but though Adam has the body of a fully grown man, his mind is basically that of a baby’s, and Henry plans to teach Adam how to be as normal an adult human as possible.

Henry’s reasons for his experimentation are far more altruistic than those of his partner Polidori (Joshua Leonard), the money man of the pair. Although Polidori wants to prove to investors as soon as possible that the experimental drug the pair is working on is ready for the big time, Henry wants Adam to develop slowly. As Adam’s intellectual growth matures, so do his feelings for the opposite sex, including Henry’s girlfriend Liz (Ana Kane) and friendly, talkative Shelley (Addison Timlin, who starred opposite Fessenden in Like Me [2017]), who he meets in a bar.

A highlight of Depraved is the relationship between Henry and Adam, and the fine portrayals given by Call and Breaux, respectively. The father figure tries to raise his makeshift son to the best of his abilities, sheltering him from the outside world — a world where Adam loses his childlike innocence once exposed to it. Call’s Henry is an understated approach to the mad doctor pedigree, with concerns, frustrations, and psychological issues that bring immediacy to the proceedings.

Fessenden’s screenplay masterfully examines the fears and foibles of today’s twentysomethings and thirtysomethings, such as meaningless encounters in search of something “more,” the drive of id over superego and the resulting disappointment of the hollow promise of instant gratification, and so on. He nails modern troubles with equal attention to horror, and indeed, addresses modern terrors — from the paranoia of not being able to walk safely on the street to letting down one’s guard to allow strangers into one’s life — both psychologically and with visceral special effects, including Peter Gerner and Brian Spears’ outstanding makeup work on Adam.

Depraved is low-budget, independent horror filmmaking at its finest, and this may be Fessenden’s best directorial work to date. The movie is currently on the film festival circuit, and is essential viewing for scare fare fans of all stripes.

Depraved had its world premiere screening at What the Fest!? on March 20, 2019, at New York City’s IFC Center.

4.3 out of 5 stars (4.3 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.