US | 2019 | Directed by Larry Fessenden

Logline: A disillusioned field surgeon has constructed a new man from body parts and a brain, only to find his creation is suffering from existential angst and loneliness. 

Larry Fessenden is a younger, contemporary Roger Corman, having produced more than sixty features in the last twenty years, acted in over a hundred movies, and directed twenty-three. He’s also shot and cut a number of them as well. He’s regarded highly in the independent genre community. I haven’t seen many of them, but his latest is being touted as his best work yet. 

Depraved takes its inspiration from Mary Shelley’s classic version of “Prometheus”, a mere mortal who defies the Gods, creating life from clay, and giving it fire. The story of Frankenstein has been adapted for the big screen more times than almost any other (apart from Dracula). So what does Fessenden bring to the operating table that makes his version stand out? 

It’s a modest production, as all of Fessenden’s flicks are, with budget limitations obvious, in terms of location shooting and special effects. The performances are pretty good, nothing amazing. The best spot of acting comes from Addison Timlin, in a tiny role as a blonde stranger in a bar. It’s a shame Fessenden didn’t give her a bigger role, as her scene is one of the movie’s highlights.


Depraved begins with young Alex (Owen Campbell) and his girlfriend Lucy (Chloë Levine) discussing their relationship, and the prospect of moving in together. It’s part of the gentrification of Brooklyn, but they are still in an industrial area. Alex leaves, frustrated, and runs foul of a hooded mugger who does him in at the pointy end of a knife. 


Alex awakens in a makeshift laboratory. But he’s not the same man. He’s a stitched together creation of Henry (David Call), an ex-military field surgeon, who has discovered a way of bringing back the dead by way of a DIY medicine. This medical project is being funded by the opportunistic Polidori (Joshua Leonard), who is running a wee bit rogue from his pharmaceutical company. Henry has named his re-booted human Adam (Alex Breaux), and he feeds him a steady diet of pills to keep him functioning and in check. He’s assisted by med school colleague Liz (Ana Kayne). 


After Polidori takes Adam out for some night time action (bar, strip joint, nightclub), the physically, psychologically and emotionally scarred patient begins to yearn for more than just the sound of his doctor calling his name. Just as Frankenstein’s creature yearned for a companion, Adam is plagued by the memories of Lucy. But he’s like autistic child, he needs contact supervision.

It’s by no means the first time Shelley’s story has been given a contemporary setting, but Fessenden’s interpretation has an immediacy, both in its down-trodden urban locations and its modern bureaucracy. There’s corruption afoot and jealousy abounds. It’s not long before Adam is at large (cue: Shelley, get it?) and doctor and benefactor are at odds with each other. 


Depraved suffers from being too long, as it drags in the middle. But the last third is where things become really interesting as Henry and Liz plan to derail the runaway train, and Polidori attempts to gain a higher, more secure footing in the company. Production values and performances aside, Depraved delivers an interesting meander down an alternate path in the cautionary fable world of the Modern Prometheus. 

Depraved screens at the 66th Sydney Film Festival, Monday 1oth June, 8.15pm (Dendy Newtown)