Joshua Leonard

Depraved

MV5BYjk4YjY5YzgtMDMzYi00MDJjLThiZTMtMTI5YThkOTBhZDVmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDExNTM1MQ@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,675,1000_AL_

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

Unsane

unsane

A woman, Sawyer Valentini, is going through a tough time. She had to change her entire life to get away from a stalker, and now it’s taking an emotional toll. When Sawyer seeks the help of a counselor, she gets tricked into admitting herself into a mental hospital. To make things worse, the man she believes to be her stalker gets a job at the hospital. The longer Sawyer stays there, the less clear her sanity becomes. Is her story real? Or is she insane?

This film had quite a bit of buzz when it was announced for two main reasons. The first being that it is directed by Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Erin Brockovich). This is the second film directed by Soderbergh since announcing his retirement. While this doesn’t necessarily mean he is “back” from retirement, it does seem that he is willing to work on a film if he finds it compelling enough. The second piece of buzz came from the fact that Soderbergh chose to film Unsane entirely with an iPhone. Honestly, there doesn’t seem to be that much benefit to this filming choice other than it being a gimmick to draw in audiences. An argument could be made that the filming style added a heightened sense of reality to the plot, but generally speaking the use of an iPhone doesn’t really affect the film in any real positive way. It doesn’t necessarily negatively effect the film either, but audiences going in expecting the filming style to be revolutionary may be disappointed.

The film begins by effectively blurring the lines of reality, both for the main character and for the audience. It creates a battle inside the viewers head similar to what the main character experiences, never knowing what is real. The filmmakers chose to reveal the truth about halfway through the film, if not a bit sooner. While the rest of the film was still quite nerve-wracking and interesting, it probably could have been even more intense if the truth was hidden until the climax of the film. Aside from the intensity of the plot, one of the most compelling parts of this film is how it portrays the flawed mental health system. In many ways this is the most terrifying aspect of the film, because it comes across as the most authentic. If the idea of being stalked or the possibility of losing your mind doesn’t disturb you, then being trapped in a corrupt mental hospital when you don’t belong there will.

It likely comes as no surprise that the breakout performance of this film is Clair Foy (The Crown, Season of the Witch) as Sawyer. Foy is fantastic as she goes through the various emotions and struggles throughout the film. She goes through everything from PTSD after being stalked, rage at being wrongfully committed, uncertainty about her own sanity, and a sheer will to survive. She gives the kind of performance where you almost forget there are other characters in the film. Jay Pharoah (Ride Along, Lola Versus) is also enjoyable as another patient at the mental hospital, Nate. He is the only one to believe Sawyer and try to help her, despite being stuck there as well, and Pharoah comes across as a very trusting character. Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project, If I Stay) plays Sawyer’s alleged stalker. Leonard is undoubtably creepy in the film. My only issue with his performance is at times he comes across as much too meek to be able to do the things Sawyer believes he is doing, although this is likely more due to direction and writing than it is with Leonard’s acting. The whole cast generally performs well in the film, but it will definitely be Foy who people remember.

Unsane manages to make audiences lose their grip on reality right along with Sawyer. Not only does it have edge-of-your-seat tension by making it unclear what is real and what isn’t, but it also highlights the horrific flaws in the mental health system. Combine that with a strong performance from Foy, and it is easy to see why Soderbergh decided to direct this film. Many viewers will likely be drawn to the film because of the use of an iPhone for filming, but it is really more of a marketing ploy than anything that truly enhances the film. If the filmmakers had held out a bit longer for the “big reveal” then the plot may have been a bit more mysterious, but as it is the film is still extremely intense. Audiences will still be thinking about this film long after leaving the theater, and they will likely be watching their backs for their own stalker.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10