Chloe Levine

Depraved

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On a late-night walk home, a man is randomly attacked. When he awakes, he finds himself in a room filled with medical instruments. His terror truly sets in when the face looking back at him from the mirror isn’t his own. A field surgeon suffering from PTSD has pieced the man together from different bodies in an attempt to defeat death.

Horror alum Larry Fassenden (Beneath, Wendigo) wrote and directed this updated take on Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. While past iterations of Shelly’s classic tale have primarily focused on the doctor’s point of view, Fassenden chose to focus more on the “monster” with Depraved.  He opens the film by introducing the audience to Alex as he gets into an argument with his girlfriend about moving in together. While Alex isn’t the greatest guy, this moment allows for the audience to quickly become invested in Alex and his relationship. When he is killed not long after that, he awakes in a monstrous new body made up of different parts. While it is a different face, it is the same brain so the audience still cares about his fate. The monster, dubbed Adam, has limited motor and intellectual skills. He has to re-learn everything and as he learns more he also remembers more. It creates a compelling story from the perspective of the man brought back from the dead with interesting moral issues the audience likely hasn’t seen before.

Depraved also focuses somewhat on the doctor. At first it is simply through his relationship with Adam. There is clearly a fatherly affection there as he teaches Adam how to problem solve and communicate and, essentially, how to be a man again. While this aspect is interesting, the film gradually shifts its focus from Adam to the doctor and not necessarily for the better. The audience is suddenly faced with flashbacks from the doctor’s time in the war and his drive to defeat death as a result from his PTSD.

This shift in focus causes some problems for the plot for two main reasons. First, it stalls the plot making it go from a slow burn to a sputtering crawl in some parts. There is a clear forward momentum and this shift in focus almost completely eradicates that momentum. Second, by focusing more on the doctor it changes the sympathetic point of view. For the first half of the film the focus is on Adam and he is conveyed as the protagonist we should be rooting for. As that focus changes to the doctor, not only does he become the more sympathetic character, but Adam also does increasingly monstrous things. It almost makes all the character development from the first half of the film irrelevant.

The film has a small cast of extremely talented actors. Alex Breaux (Bushwick, John Harvard) stars as the newly created Adam. What makes his performance especially compelling is the way he acts with his entire body. From a simple limp, to conveying poor motor skills, to showing emotions through his face when he can’t speak, Breaux truly brings Adam to life (pun intended). Another great performance comes from David Call (The Magicians, The Sinner) as the disillusioned doctor, Henry. Call excels at showing the audience that Henry isn’t a bad person and he cares about Adam, but he is single-minded in his scientific quest. On top of the great performances there are a few familiar horror faces fans will recognize such as Chloe Levine (The Ranger, The Transfiguration) and Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project, Bates Motel).

Unlike most Frankenstein-inspired films, the filmmakers behind Depraved opted to go for a bleak color scheme and more minimalistic effects. The film appears to be drained of color, providing a monochromatic color palette. This choice enhances the dark and depressing tone of the film. The practical effects are solely focused on Adam. Minimal prosthetics on the skin give the appearance that Adam is made up of different body parts stitched together. While these are very well done and the minimal use gives the body a more realistic look, I almost wish the effects team had taken it a bit further. Even though the body is stitched together, it still looks like it is all from the same body. The overall look would have been more striking if the pieces looked more like they were from different bodies of different colors and sizes.

Depraved delivers a unique, updated version of Frankenstein’s monster with a more sympathetic eye toward the undead creation. The film is filled with excellent performances and well done makeup effects, although I wish the effects had been a bit more elaborate. Fassenden manages to give the audience something different from the commonly remade source material. While the plot does a great job of focusing on the “monster,” the eventual shift to focusing on the doctor messes with the pacing of the film and ultimately confuses who the protagonist is. It is still a very well made film, but it likely would have been stronger if Adam had been the primary focus of the story.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

The Ranger

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After a traumatic childhood, a teen girl lives a transient punk lifestyle with her friends. A police incident forces the group of punks to find a place to hide out. They go back to the place of the girl’s trauma where they meet the park ranger. Things go from bad to worse when the friends realize this isn’t your friendly neighborhood ranger.

This thrilling flick is the work of director Jenn Wexler and co-writer Giaco Furino, both making their feature film debut. At first glance this film seems like a typical popcorn slasher. While it does have many of the elements making it fun and exciting to watch, it goes even deeper than that. For one, the film has some great character development. A large portion of the beginning of the film allows the audience to really get to know the characters and care for them, especially the teen girl whose cabin they go to. All of the characters are flawed as well, making them more believable and relatable. There is a great aspect of the character development that explores both dealing with trauma and finding your place in the world. It is something that speaks to many different types of audiences, while still giving an entertaining story.

Another extremely successful aspect of the film is the treatment of LGBTQ characters. It is common in horror films for the LGBTQ characters to fit some stereotype or have their being gay be the focus of who they are as a person. In The Ranger there is a gay couple and the best part about them is that I didn’t even realize they were gay until a ways into the film. They feel like real people and, aside from them having a sweet couple moment or two, the filmmakers don’t focus on the fact that they are gay.

The only downside is that the character development may go on a little too long. When the action starts it almost feels rushed because so much time is spent on what happens before the kids even meet the ranger. There is also very little development of the ranger himself. In many ways it works. The ranger’s strange behavior is a mystery, which makes sense because the audience knows as much about the ranger as the teens do. Yet I can’t help wishing I knew more about some of the more bizarre things he does.

This film is filled with outstanding performances from the entire cast. The clear standout is Chloe Levine (The Transfiguration, The OA) as Chelsea. Chelsea went through a childhood trauma that lead her to finding a home in the punk scene. It’s fascinating to see how Levine portrays Chelsea as a young woman who is finding her way in the word. She also does a superb job of showing the audience Chelsea is a survivor who can adapt to any situation thrown at her. Another great performance comes from Jeremy Holm (House of Cards, Mr. Robot) as the ranger. Even when the ranger is being perfectly pleasant, Holm still manages to bring an edge to his performance. It is like he is a bear trap ready to spring at any provocation. When he finally does snap, Holm makes the ranger an entertaining and derange killer. Honorable mention goes to the rest of the punks including Granit Lahu (The Sinner), Jeremy Pope, Bubba Weiler (Puzzle), and Amanda Grace Benitez (All Cheerleaders Die), all of whom are perfect punks.

The artistry of the film is intriguing as well. As with any good slasher flick, there is a decent amount of blood and gore in this film. The practical effects are very well done. There is a high level of gore, but it is done in a very realistic way. This is great because there isn’t anything that feels over-the-top or overtly fake like in many classic slasher films. The music in the film also elevates it to a heightened level of art. The punk rock blends perfectly with the style and imagery to create something quite stunning to watch.

The Ranger is equal parts carnage, survival, and punk rock. It has all the appeal of an eighties slasher flick, but it also tells a more complex story. The plot allows for fascinatingly flawed characters to be thrust into extreme circumstances. This leaves room for great character development that explores the many facets of human nature, how people deal with trauma, and the will to survive. Sprinkle in a great killer and punk rock music and you get a very well made film. There may be a bit of room for improvement when it comes to the pacing of the film, but for a directorial and writing debut from Wexler and Furina, it is definitely a strong start.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10