Thursday, March 21, 2019

What The!? ’19: Depraved

In 1930’s Universal movies, Transylvania is the homeland of monsters. In Larry Fessenden’s latest film, monsters come from Brooklyn, namely Gowanus. That is much more believable, isn’t it? In fact, this is could well be the grungiest, most realistic take on Mary Shelley’s classic characters yet. New sentient life will get sutured together, but it isn’t exactly grateful for the favor after it experiences the Brooklyn scene in Fessenden’s Depraved, which premiered as the opening night selection of the What The Fest!?.

Alex, an obnoxious Brooklynite, is about to be murdered, but he will be back—at least a piece of him will, as a ghostly remnant within the hulking body Dr. Henry (surname cagily not identified) has stitched together from body parts. Occasionally, the new life form dubbed “Adam” experiences flashes of Alex’s memory, but not enough to help him make sense of the world.

His name is not intended as a Biblical reference. Instead, it has more personal meaning for the former military doctor turned mad scientist. This Dr. Frankenstein is not as blinded by vainglory and hubris as his cinematic predecessors. His desire to conqueror death was kindled by his service performing battlefield triage. Unfortunately, he largely lost his sense of perspective in the process. Needless to say, his financial backer, the entitled hipster Polidori was not a constructive influence.

Depraved looks like it was filmed in a shuttered Gowanus industrial building, because it really was. The is definitely the grittiest, least tweedy Frankenstein riff that openly advertises itself as such (for the record, there is an even grimier film involving a Frankenstein-like mad doctor on the festival circuit, but its Modern Prometheus connections are supposed to come as a surprise revelation). Regardless, Fessenden’s film definitely feels like it came straight out of Gowanus, with all the attitude and industrial waste that implies.

As Adam, Alex Breaux brings to life (so to speak) one of the most doleful movie monsters since Universal’s glory years. With his awkward hesitancy and confusion, he resembles a more nebbish Lon Chaney Jr. Likewise, David Call’s portrayal of Henry is unusually morally conflicted by genre movie standards.

Joshua Leonard (returning to his Blair Witch horror movie roots) is abrasively annoying and convincingly petulant and immature as Polidori. Yet, Addison Timlin might be who genre fans remember most, combining humor and pathos in her all too brief appearance as Shelley, the Iggy Pop listener Adam kind of-sort of picks up in a hipster bar. It is a very well-written and well-played sequence that serves as an analog to the Karloff monster fatally throwing the little girl into the lake.

As viewers should be able to tell from many of the character names, Depraved often alludes to the original novel and traditionally gothic films in sly ways. In what will be a relief to many, the film is not at all as lectury as one might expect, despite Henry’s military background and the fundamental folly-of-playing-god-theme (especially compared to Fessenden’s The Last Winter). Altogether, it is a pretty impressive work of ultra-indie auteurist horror cinema. Highly recommended for Frankenstein and Fessenden fans, Depraved had its premiere last night, as part of this year’s What The Fest.