Once one figures out “Depraved” is a modern re-setting of “Frankenstein,” how does a filmmaker maintain interest through the over-familiar story beats that march us toward that inevitable hunt with pitchforks?
Sure, it’s changed up a bit. The “monster” is pieced together by an Army surgeon haunted by all the mortally injured comrades he lost in the Middle East. He does this in a loft in modern day Brooklyn (Gawanus), and there’s this college pal/drug maker/financier who is backing the “experiment.”
We see the murder of the man whose brain turns up in “Adam,” the stitchwork creature “born” the day he is revived on the operating table.
Otherwise, it’s the same movie.
Actor turned writer-director Larry Fessenden (“Beneath,” “Wendigo”) seeks to distract us from the well-worn path by talking us to death. There are endless scenes of the doctor (David Call of “Tiny Furniture”) “teaching” the creation he names “Adam” (CLE-verrr) the fundamentals of life.
“OK. Can you say ‘OK?'” “Gravity makes the ball go down.”
Then there are debates — moral ones between Henry the doctor and his psychotherapist girlfriend (Ana Kayne), ethical and financial quarrels between Henry his rich backer, Polidoro (Joshua Leonard of “The Blair Witch Project”).
And don’t get me started on Polidoro’s “field trip” with Adam (Alex Breaux of “When They See Us”) — to museums, strip clubs, into “the world.” Polidoro loves the sound of his own voice, and teaching Adam about violence via an exhibit of war artifacts and weapons.
“Depraved. That’s what we are, Adam, utterly depraved!”
Adam silently absorbs much of this, learning all the time, quickly mastering the master at ping pong. He shows off his scar collection and his handiness with a pun come-on to Henry’s girlfriend, Liz.
“How do you feel?”
“With my hand!”
How “Rocky Horror.”
It’s all just a slow/slower/slowest prologue to the moment Adam becomes self-aware, questions his captive state and discovers his power. “Depraved?” He’ll show you depraved!”
Fessenden begins by adding a prologue, “How this person died,” the person whose tiny remnants of memory linger in Adam’s brain, tossed about in the special effects bubbles and murk meant to show him thinking.
Leonard comes off best in all this chatter, playing an amoral, rich schemer who loves the sound of his own voice, and likes the notion of “teaching” this science experiment that will make his new drug a blockbuster.
“Do you know what a lie is, Adam?”
None of this talk-talk-talk alters the course the story must take, and simply makes one impatient for the filmmaker to get on with it. Tedium sets in early and rears its head often as “Depraved” unfolds.
The violence, save for that opening stabbing, is exactly where it always has been in Frankenstein tales — in the third act.
And the villagers with pitchforks are, you know, cops and tracking dogs now.
As any viewer will see through this very early on (the damned stitching gives away the game, for Pete’s sake), there’s no excuse for dragging “Depraved” out. It crawls along, a mildly creepy tale with no pace to go along with its lack of suspense.
MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, explicit sex, profanity, alcohol
Cast: David Call, Joshua Leonard, Alex Breaux, Ana Kayne, Chloe Levine, Owen Campbell
Credits: Written and directed by Larry Fessenden. An IFC Midnight release.
Running time: 1:54