Who doesn’t love a good ole fashioned modern spin on a horror classic? IFC Midnight presents Depraved, an update of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that reimagines the tale of a grave-robbing mad scientist as the most terrifying monster of all: a Brooklyn hipster.
Writer/director/editor Larry Fessenden uses every visual effect leftover from the 90s to modernize Shelley’s gothic horror novel. From Gap ads to music videos directed by McG, Fessenden unleashes the full might and fury of iMovie filters. I wish he had confidence not to rely on distracting effects because Depraved actually has all the right stuff for a pretty killer Frankenstein remix.
After a prologue that’s clearly written by a dude (I’ll just leave it at that), Depraved is smart enough to skip past what’s typically the first half of every Frankenstein movie and begins immediately after Henry (Depraved’s version of Dr. Frankenstein, played by David Call) creates a monster out of dead human body parts. At this point, no one needs to spend 5 minutes on a cat-and-mouse scene of Igor evading caretakers while he grave-robs a cemetery. Trimming the fat lets Depraved spend more time on the surprisingly convincing relationship between Henry and his creature, Adam (Alex Breaux). The film works as well as it does thanks to Adam being one of the better Frankenstein’s monsters we’ve seen in a while.
All of the best Frankenstein adaptations know how to flesh out the monster as a real character. Adam’s transformation from a dumb zombie into a fully-formed person feels totally authentic. If Frankenstein’s monster existed in a gentrified hipster neighborhood, I’m positive Depraved is what his existence would really look like. Unfortunately, all of those silly effects I mentioned represent the neural connections Adam’s brain builds. However, Breaux is such a good actor that it’s already interesting when we see him put two-and-two together. Fessenden doesn’t need to constantly interrupt the moody tone Depraved sets with these tacky effects that explain something we already understand.
Even Henry, Depraved’s hipster ukulele cover of Dr. Frankenstein, has a lot more depth and humanity than most renditions. Yes, even the iconic “It’s alive… Alive!” version. Again, Fessenden just cannot stop himself from over-tweaking the character. I loved seeing this version of Dr. Frankenstein, but references to his updated backstory slowly chip away at his mystique. Depraved works best when it updates Shelley’s story by cleverly integrating it into a modern backdrop. When it actually tries to explain these characters using modern psychology is when Depraved takes itself a little too seriously. Depraved works perfectly fine as a fun, stylish remix on an old story. The few moments it fancies itself as the next great exploration of the themes in Shelley’s novel are the only times Depraved totally falls off.
As mixed bags go, this one is just so well-crafted that it’s easy to forgive. It’s only playing at midnight this weekend, and I can’t think of a better showtime. Although Quentin Tarantino convinced the world that midnight movies are intentionally awful gore fests, Depraved is the real deal. It’s a film that genuinely feels like a horror movie that studios don’t make, made by a cast and crew who genuinely want to make a cool-as-hell Frankenstein movie. I just wish Depraved had the confidence to realize it’s already a cool-as-hell Frankenstein movie and not worry so much about try to look “cool-as-hell.”
Grade = C+