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Fantasia Film Festival

‘The Art of Self-Defense’ is a Frightening Investigation into the Cult of Masculinity

Fantasia Film Festival 2019

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The long-awaited second feature from Riley Stearns after quirky 2014 cult thriller Faults stars Jesse Eisenberg as Casey, a depressed and meek loner seduced by a martial-arts cult after a near-death experience.

Casey is a bookish accountant whose unisex name isn’t the only thing men find feminine about him; he owns a dachshund, is learning French, and listens to soft contemporary music. He also spends his days surveying expense reports, being mocked by his co-workers, and generally avoiding any eye contact with his peers. At night, he mostly locks himself in his apartment, masturbates, and has conversations with his dog. As hard as he tries to ingratiate himself with the other men, he seems to always come up short. One night while walking to the store to buy food for his dachshund, a gang of motorcycle hooligans beats him within an inch of his life, then leave him to die on the asphalt.

When he finally nurses himself back to health, Casey looks for ways to protect himself — first by purchasing firearms, and later by signing up for karate classes. This new hobby gives him both purpose and discipline, and more importantly, it makes him feel wanted — thanks to a charismatic karate instructor (Alessandro Nivola) who does everything in his power to boost his self-confidence. Despite his lack of talent, Casey pushes hard in hopes of impressing his colleagues, and maybe one day owning a black belt. After revealing what motivated him to take karate in the first place, his Sensei invites him to his private night class. That’s when his reality becomes a surreal, twisted nightmare, and over the course of a set of unpredictable events, the night class leads to violence, while Sensei reveals himself to be a dangerously disturbed individual.

Art of Self Defense

When discussing The Art of Self-Defense, it’s hard to ignore plot comparisons to David Fincher’s Fight Club. The film isn’t anywhere near as stylized as Fincher’s classic, nor does it have the soundtrack, big budget, or the star power to dazzle mainstream moviegoers, but like Fight Club, Stearns’ sophomore feature is about the quest for an ideal masculinity. And like Fight Club, The Art of Self-Defense investigates toxic masculinity within a cult led by the enigmatic Sensei, who preys on a lonely and confused man. At the start Casey is timid, weak, vulnerable and downright defenseless; Sensei knows this, and so does everything in his power to manipulate him. As Casey finds himself dangerously drawn deeper and deeper into the culture of the dojo, it affects every aspect of his personality and life in dangerous ways. To be a man, one must learn to punch with their feet and kick with their fists says Sensei, whose karate school soon reveals itself to be similar to an actual terrorist organization.

The Art of Self-Defense is also drawing comparisons to Jody Hill’s bleak but brilliant Observe and Report, as well as Danny McBride’s severely underrated Foot Fist Way, with its deadpan humour and overall slapdash structure. Only, unlike those films, The Art of Self-Defence isn’t really funny. In fact, despite what some critics will have you believe, the film is downright depressing, and when Casey fully steps into his alpha self, it’s quite terrifying to witness Sensei manipulate, abuse, and brainwash his student.

Art of Self Defense Review

The Art of Self-Defense is a film that can test your patience. I wouldn’t call the pacing unbearably slow, but it does take its sweet time getting from one scene to the next, with characters saying and doing things that seem oddly out of place. Stearns’ script has a tendency to linger on oddly mundane moments and dry interactions that at times overstay their welcome, but what makes The Art of Self-Defense great is how it manages to shift its gears entirely and surprise viewers. It helps that the cast is uniformly strong, most notably Jesse Eisenberg and his co-star Imogen Poots, who plays Anna, one of Sensei’s pupils and the film’s only woman — and foil to all the men. Eisenberg’s Casey is indeed similar to the characters that the actor has become famous for, only this might be his wildest performance ever. As the karate-obsessed loser on the brink of losing his mind, Casey is simultaneously pathetic and frightening, and yet you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. Meanwhile, Imogen Poots’ Anna has infinitely more confidence than Casey, but she has internalized so much of the dojo’s misogyny that she’s clearly emotionally damaged and unable to crawl out of her shell.

The Art of Self-Defense juggles several emotions from scene to scene. It can be absurd yet relevant — fun and disarmingly scary right down to it disturbingly cathartic climax. It goes in so many different directions, in fact, that it feels impossible to pigeonhole into one specific genre but that’s what ultimately gives it a staying power. The twists and turns that follow seem straight out of a traditional kung fu movie, only it doubles as a keen critique of male violence and the notion of power at large. Shot in a mere 21 days, The Art of Self-Defense is one of the better American indie films of 2019 — and makes Riley Stearns a talent to watch.

– Ricky D

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 4. Visit the official website for more information.

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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Fantasia Film Festival

‘Freaks’ is a Superb Sci-Fi Thriller That Keeps You Guessing

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Directing duo Zach Lipovsky and Adam B Stein have clearly taken inspiration from such films as Room and 10 Cloverfield Lane to craft a stunning, genre-bending, psychological sci-fi thriller about a young girl who discovers a new world beyond her front door. The film unravels inside of a ramshackle house where a bright seven-year-old named Chloë (Lexy Kolker) is held ‘prisoner’ by her overly protective and paranoid father Henry (Emile Hirsch). The house is boarded shut with several padded locks on the front door, and the windows are covered with thick blankets and newspaper clippings — enough to keep the sunshine out. Every exchange between the father and daughter is meant to pique our curiosity about the mystery of the world outside that bolted door; having trained Chloë to assume a new identity, Henry runs her through routine security drills, and repeatedly warns his daughter of the dangers of the outside world, as well as the people threatening to kill them. Everything we see, we see from Chloë’s perspective — which isn’t much, since the young girl has never left the premises.

Henry’s increasingly paranoid and arguably insane attempts to keep Chloë inside are the stuff of nightmares. The initial setup feels particularly alarming, because it focuses solely on the unhealthy relationship between the father and daughter, leaving us fearful for her safety. Tired of being locked up, Chloë decides she wants to go in search of the ice cream truck that often parks outside her home. When she eventually builds up the courage to defy her father and escape, she crosses paths with Mr. Snowcone (Bruce Dern), an ice cream vendor with a keen interest in the girl. He claims to know the truth about Chloë’s dad, and tries to convince her to run away with him. Regardless if the man is telling the truth or not, it doesn’t take long before it becomes apparent that things aren’t quite what they seem. By now, it is clear that Freaks is a thriller designed to keep your stomach in knots, your fingers clenched, and your heart racing. The question, however, is whether Chloë can trust her dad, or is the mysterious ice cream vendor the real threat?

Freaks Review

Freaks opens with a simple scenario, but the hook here (and what keeps us watching) is that we never really know anything more than Chloë does. As mentioned above, Freaks is presented in her point of view, and thus Chloë acts as our eyes and ears — which doesn’t help matters, since she herself is too young to make sense of what is going on. Lipovsky and Stein have great fun teasing audiences, patiently revealing scraps of information such as the fleeting glimpses of TV news broadcasts playing in the background about drone strikes in Seattle, or the destruction of Dallas, Texas. Why does her dad sometimes bleed from his eyes? Who is Mr. Snowcone, and what does he want with her? There are so many questions to be asked, including who is the ghostly woman who sometimes appears in the attic (Amanda Crew), and what is her connection to Chloë?

What makes Freaks such a great mystery is that the writer-directors aren’t out to play coy with the audience. Instead, they patiently let us in on its secrets as the mysteries are slowly unraveled, in a series of increasingly intense and thrilling sequences. It really is impressive how much mileage they get out of simply not revealing too much too early. Needless to say, the less you know about Freaks going in, the better. The fun here has everything to do with how it continues to unfold into a series of surprises designed to keep viewers guessing right up to the final reel.

The less you know about Freaks going in, the better.

Freaks is also a movie that is shockingly well-made given its modest budget. It is directed by first-time feature helmers, and at times it feels like a calling card, as though the filmmakers are out to prove they can rival many big-budget blockbusters. Judging by their results, I certainly think they are more than capable of directing something on a large-scale, and I can’t wait to see what they do next. Using less than a handful of locations, a small cast, and some duly applied special effects, the filmmakers manage to create some explosive action scenes despite the film’s obvious technical limitations. In particular, the filmmakers use sound design to maximum effect when heightening the suspense, and with Timothy Wynn’s score helping them, they manage to pull off some very effective jump scares. Meanwhile, cinematographer Stirling Bancroft shoots the film completely from Chloe’s perspective, which in the first act feels incredibly claustrophobic and dreamlike — and in the third act, makes the world of Freaks seem too big for our young protagonist.

Freaks

What is it really about?

*** Note: The following paragraph can be considered a spoiler. ***

Freaks is more than just a paranoia thriller. There’s a dash of X-Men and a large dose of Tim Kring’s Heroes. The challenge here involves transitioning an overly cryptic first act into an action-packed plot involving super-powered outcasts who are hunted by the military and forced to hide from the rest of humanity. Yes, Freaks is another superhero origin story, but judging by the plot synopsis, the trailer, the poster, or any of the other form of marketing, you would be forgiven for not knowing these details. By the time those superheroic moments come, we are invested in the characters, and no matter how familiar its tropes are, Freaks never ceases to be thoroughly engaging. It helps that Zach Lipovsky and Adam B Stein show a good understanding of how children think and behave, keeping our young heroine believable while gradually filling in the blanks as to what’s happening in the world around her.

Freaks is a superhero movie that is grounded in reality. Yes, characters can control minds, freeze time, teleport, turn invisible, and fly, but their abilities are mainly kept in the background, allowing the family drama to take center stage. The story unfolds in ways that make its characters seem much more ‘human’ despite their special abilities. And like X-Men or Heroes, Freaks is upfront about its thematic focus on diversity, discrimination, and persecution. It taps into current paranoia about immigrants, people of color, and various minorities (under the guise of the mutant ‘abnormals’ or ‘freaks’) who have become victims and targets across the United States. It certainly isn’t overtly political, but the metaphor is there nonetheless.

Freaks Movie Review

Beyond the sci-fi and horror, Freaks is really a movie about coming of age. Lexy Kolker (best known as young Robin in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.) is a natural performer, easily holding her own against the older actors. Her performance couldn’t be any more authentic, and despite being surrounded by an experienced cast, she pretty much carries the weight of the film on her tiny shoulders.

Freaks is a superb thriller that breathes new life into the genre and makes the most of its confined setting, modest budget, and an outstanding cast. The first half is rewardingly claustrophobic, keeping its focus tight on the characters and keeping secrets locked down, all while teasing at whatever disasters may loom outside. The second half is touching, action-packed, and spectacular. Sometimes messy but mostly effective, Freaks gives most Marvel movies a run for their money.

– Ricky D

Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on July 29, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Fantasia Film Festival.

 

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Fantasia Film Festival

‘Ready or Not‘ Derives a Fair Amount of Mileage out of its Simple Premise

A rich family hunt the bride in a very bloody game of Hide And Seek

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Making its World Premiere at the Montreal genre festival, Ready or Not is a blood-spattered, tongue-in-cheek horror comedy that features plenty of gore and a sense of humour as dark as the terror on display.

Anyone who has seen the trailer is already familiar with the simple premise. What is best described as a cross between The Most Dangerous Game and Clue, Ready or Not stars Samara Weaving as Grace, a young bride who marries into the wealthy but strange Le Domas family that made their fortune in the board game industry. When it comes time to consummate the union, the bride is told that the marriage won’t be complete until she participates in an unusual family ritual: before the strike of midnight, the newlywed bride must draw a card from a mysterious box which will dictate which game they play into the night. Grace pulls the one-and-only cursed card that reads “Hide and Seek.” But this isn’t the traditional children’s game we are familiar with; in this deadly version, she is hunted by her soon-to-be-revealed psychotic in-laws wielding heavy weaponry like crossbows and shotguns.

A surreal cat-and-mouse chase ensues, with Alex ostensibly trying to help his bride survive while the rest of the La Domas clan remains dead-set on sacrificing her through the mysterious ritual. Their motive is simple: the La Domas believe that they must kill her before dawn as part of a satanic pact agreed upon years ago, otherwise they will have to repay their debt with their own lives. As to whether or not there actually is a satanic pact is unknown; as far as Grace is concerned, these rich folks are batshit crazy and out of their goddamned minds.

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who are collectively credited as Radio Silence (V/H/S, Southbound), Ready or Not has a lot to offer in wit, style, and entertainment. It feels tailor-made for a midnight audience, as the bloodthirsty relatives arm themselves to the teeth in a wedding night filled with crossbows, shotguns, decapitations, a car chase, and a level of gore I didn’t expect given the marketing. The climax is especially memorable — an all-out gore extravaganza that left the audience laughing hysterically.

There’s a lot to like here, from the score by composer Brian Tyler to the cinematography by Brett Jutkiewicz, but the reason this film works so well is because of the talented cast they’ve assembled, most notably Alex’s alcoholic brother, Daniel (Adam Brody), who serves as the family’s moral core. And of course there’s also Samara Weaving, (Mayhem, The Babysitter) who pretty much sacrifices her body in blood-soaked scenes of action and terror. The actress is fully dedicated in her role, turning into her own version of Ripley while tearing apart the upper-class society, their ridiculous traditions, and their silly superstitions.

I don’t want to oversell Ready or Not; it’s a great B-movie (albeit a big studio B-Movie, but a B-movie nonetheless). The quick pace, simple concept, and terrific performances are what carry it through the 95-minute run time. Ready or Not is simply put, a lot of fun — a horror-comedy that offers a ton of laughs, delivers the action, and cements the star power of Samara Weaving. The best compliment I can give is that I’m ready to see it again. It’s the perfect movie to watch with a group of friends on a stormy night, and a late-summer surprise for genre fans everywhere.

  • Ricky D

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 25, 2019, as part of our coverage of the  Fantasia Film Festival.

 

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Fantasia Film Festival

Beautiful ‘Shadow’ Stands Out

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As a sort of somber Shakespearean political melodrama, Zhang Yimou’s Shadow sometimes feels a bit too overplotted, with enough self restraint and looks of longing to make it feel claustrophobic, and so many schemes and betrayals that the script almost gets dazed among them. However, as a fantastical period piece — decked out in luscious trappings and painterly compositions, and bolstered by passionate performances and balletic battles with umbrellas made of blades — the experience fares better, resulting in a look at ancient intrigue that always manages to entertain one way or another.

A brief bit of opening text sets the stage for a precarious peace between two lands — the kingdom of Pei, and the kingdom of Yang, the latter of which currently occupies the city of Jing, much to Pei’s dismay. When the renowned Commander of Pei strikes a deal with Yang’s unbeatable warrior king to compete in a one-on-one duel for the fate of the city, he is rebuked by his own ruler, and stripped of his title, demoted to a mere commoner. However, it is secretly revealed that the man acting as the Commander is actually a lookalike named Jingzhou, captured in his youth and bound to serve as ‘shadow’ to the true Commander — who is still recovering from near-mortal wounds from a previous encounter — in case of threats to his life.

This sickly Commander confines himself to an underground cavern beneath the city, and relentlessly trains Jingzhou in order to uphold the subterfuge, even going so far as to give him similar scars. All the while, he plots to retake Jing and assume Pei’s throne, promising to free Jingzhou from his duty upon victory. Of course, this being a royal court, there are any number of Machiavellian conspirators, each setting wheels in motions that surely will collide. This includes a weaselly king, a fiery princess, a sniveling courtier, and the Commander’s wife, Xiao Ai, who plays along with her husband’s maneuvers, but may be falling for his more honorable ‘shadow.’

Those who casually wander into this inter-kingdom squabble will no doubt soon become as lost as these ancient civilizations themselves, but despite the gravity with which the various players detail their plans, the importance of what they’re saying is mostly smoke and mirrors; sure, the duplicity stacked upon duplicity is mildly diverting, but it’s also shallow and devoid of meaningful motivation; so do the myriad of machinations in Shadow really matter? Not when there are plenty of other things to hold one’s interest.

Chiefly among those elements is the sumptuous look of every frame. Working with a relatively small canvas, director Zhang Yimou has carefully composed grandiose images filled with nuanced staging, deliberate movement, and indelibly rich texture. His choices give otherwise modest engagements an epic feel, and not just in moments where swords are flashed. Conversations become mini-wars in themselves, as he zeroes his camera in on the meticulous exchanges between the main players of his power game, their precisely worded responses and subtle facial expressions acting out aggressive thrusts and parries in word form, often cutting just as deep as any knife. 

One need not understand the spoken particulars to get the general idea, and Shadow actually communicates better through the clarity of its visuals. Each guarded step or confident tilt of the head feels deliberately choreographed, as if part of deadly dance. And instead of overloading the screen with period detail, sets are clean, populated only with objects of significance. This laser focus allows for minute aspects that otherwise may have been overlooked in clutter to factor prominently, especially when Zhang Yimou holds his shots so patiently.

And it must have easy for him to do so with a cast as magnetic as this. Deng Chao does double duty as the Commander and Jingzhou, but creates characters so disparate that you’d be forgiven for thinking they bear no resemblance whatsoever. He manages bitter and reptilian just as easy as dutiful and courageous, showing how life has affected these two men, tied together by a facade, in vastly different ways. Sun Li as Xiao Ai nobly hides her torn affections behind expressive eyes that should reveal more than they do; everyone is playing the game. Zheng Kai and Guan Xiaotong round things out nicely as the deceitful king and his more straightforward, honest sister, who challenges any threats to honor.

Shadow 2019 Film Review

They are eminently watchable, completely up to the task of holding down the fort even when besieged by layers of backstabbing that would require a more talented contortionist than the script is capable of. That’s Shadow itself; from one-on-one political maneuvers to an entertainingly inventive battle involving hundreds, there is almost always something splendid to soak in, even if it makes your head spin.

Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on July 25th as part of our Fantasia Film Festival coverage. Shadow is now available in Canada on Digital, DVD, and Blu-ray.

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Fantasia Film Festival

Fantasia 2019: ‘Harpoon’ is ‘Dead Calm’ meets ‘Alive’

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Harpoon is best described as Dead Calm meets Alive. It follows Jonah (Munro Chambers), Sasha (Emily Tyra), and Richard (Christopher Gray)— a trio of unlikable friends with some serious issues who do horrible things to one another for roughly eighty-two minutes.

After Richard, the son of a mob boss suspects his best friend Jonah and long-time girlfriend Sasha are having an affair, it sends him into an uncontrollable rage that leaves Jonah a bruised and bloody mess. Only it seems Richard is wrong (or so they say), and after convincing Richard the allegations are false, Richard invites them on his family’s yacht to celebrate his birthday. It was meant to be a fun day trip in order to win back their trust but as tensions boil and the yacht’s engine fails, Richard’s anger management issues kick in and his birthday present (a speargun mistaken for a harpoon) becomes a threat. Stranded without food, drinking water, and other supplies, their only hope of survival is to set aside their differences and work together. But as secrets continue to be revealed and accusations are made, it seems this fuc*ed-up trio has little to no hope of ever reaching land alive.

Harpoon Movie Review

At its core, Harpoon is really a film about friendship, albeit a toxic friendship between three young adults who have drifted apart but somehow remain bound only by the amount of time they’ve known each other. When the trio are left stranded in the middle of the ocean, both their friendships and their lives are tested in excruciating ways. Rob Grant and co-screenwriter Mike Kovac’s script features an unseen narrator (Brett Gelman) who offers insight into the interpersonal background of the trio along with a clever and amusing history lesson about sailors and their superstitions. It seems the uncontrollable nature of the sea has given way to many a nautical lore, each one as curious as the next and Harpoon dives deep into these myths and legends feeding us snippets of info during a swift montage. As the plot twists, and turns (of which it does plenty), the trio realizes they’ve jinxed themselves in a barrage of ways. As they wait in hopes that someone will come to their rescue, they pass the time looking for ways to survive while discussing stories such as Edgar Allan Poe’s novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and the true tale of Richard Parker, whose life at sea unbelievably mirrored the plot of Poe‘s writing which was released 50 years earlier.

Harpoon Movie Review

For what is essentially a horror film shot on a single location, director Rob Grant does a superb job in delivering a nasty little thriller. In spite of the short running time and limited claustrophobic setting, Grant keeps the film interesting with his camera choices and clever editing. As the film progresses the camerawork slowly draws in ever tighter on the three leads heightening the suspense at key moments while also further adding to the claustrophobic feel. It really is impressive how much mileage the filmmakers get when working with so little.

Held together by three impressive performances, Harpoon deftly plays with our emotions as we become less and less sympathetic to the trio, no matter what horrible things they may be experiencing. What makes Harpoon different than your average survival thriller is how it continuously encourages the audience to laugh at the series of unfortunate events. No matter how deceitful, violent and psychotic these three friends are, Harpoon somehow manages to remain darkly funny.

I must once again stress how annoying these characters are and because of this, Harpoon is a film I admire more than I enjoyed. Often the trio’s bickering is exhausting to sit through and despite a running commentary on toxic masculinity and male insecurity, Harpoon eventually runs out of steam— or rather, is left with no more wind in its sails. In the end, these terrible human beings couldn’t be any more deserving of each other but I can’t say I enjoyed their company.

  • Ricky D

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

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Fantasia Film Festival

Fantasia 2019: ‘Depraved’ Puts a Fresh Spin on Frankenstein

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Larry Fessenden’s latest is part of a series of films that re-interpret classic monsters in a contemporary setting. The inspiration this time: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

There have been hundreds of big-screen adaptations of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein, but the latest, Depraved, resurrects Shelley’s 19th-century masterpiece with a 21st-century twist.

Depraved marks Larry Fessenden’s first feature-length film in six years, one in which he wrote, produced, directed, and edited. Known as the godfather of New York small-budget horror movies, Fessenden is no stranger to bringing Frankenstein-like stories to life on the big screen. Traces of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece can be found in many of the movies his studio (Glass Eye Pix) has produced over the past three decades, but Depraved may be his most ambitious, reconfiguring the classic story into something that’s truly his own.

Eschewing the classic gothic setting for Brooklyn, New York, Fessenden stitches together the usual motifs of hubristic science, loneliness, and fatherhood with modern anxieties about the dangers of profit-driven pharmaceutical companies, the trauma of PTSD, and the social decline of modern times.

Depraved

David Call plays Henry, a grieving wartime field surgeon whose time in the Middle East has left him with severe PTSD. Alex Breaux plays Adam, a young man who is attacked one night on his way home, left to die on the sidewalk. As fate would have it, Henry stumbles upon Adam’s lifeless corpse, and drags it back to his nearby laboratory. With the help of his business partner and old college friend, Polidori (Joshua Leonard), Henry assembles various body parts, then transplants David’s brain into a new, stitched-together carcass. And so, Adam is reborn, thanks to a mysterious drug and the mangled collage of different corpses Henry has collected. Proud of his creation, Henry is eager to teach Adam how to speak, solve puzzles, regain motor control, play table tennis, and well, be human again. Unfortunately for Henry and Adam, Polidori has other plans.

Unlike the majority of Frankenstein adaptations, Depraved places a heavy focus on the father/son relationship between Doctor and Creation. Those looking for a Frankenhooker or Re-Animator style of film may be disappointed, since Depraved is first and foremost a character-driven film. Stripping the story to its bare essentials, we spend the majority of the running time watching Henry struggle with the moral and ethical dilemma of tampering with mother nature. For roughly the first half-hour, Depraved shows Adam’s death, rebirth, and healing process. The second part is a twisted coming-of-age tale that sees the two men slowly form a bond. The third and final act sees the all-too-greedy Polidori introduce Adam to the darker side of the city life. Things quickly spiral out of control as Adam starts to regain memories of his past life, and the gifted doctor instantly regrets bringing him back from the dead.

Depraved Movie Review

Depraved is best when it’s exploring the very unstable relationship of these two men, and it helps that David Call and Alex Breaux both do some incredible work here. Unlike most Frankenstein adaptations, Depraved is almost entirely seen through Adam’s eyes, and Alex Breaux’s mechanical performance strangely helps bring the film to life. He’s great at using his entire body to express emotions and imply what Adam is thinking and feeling, with little-to-no dialogue. Meanwhile, David Call does a marvelous job as the disillusioned doctor with something of a God complex. His performance takes the viewer on an emotional journey, and despite his poor decisions and questionable actions, he winds up sympathetic as we watch his spirit being crushed by the world around him. Unfortunately, the same sort of praise can’t be bestowed upon Joshua Leonard playing the greedy corporate benefactor behind Henry’s research. Perhaps the film’s one and only bad scene sees Polidori deliver a tiresome monologue about human nature while strolling through a museum. Of course, part of the blame should be credited to the screenwriter, but Leonard spends the majority of his screen time playing his character to the point of camp, which clashes with the performances of the rest of the cast.

Shot on the 200th anniversary of Shelley’s novel, Depraved is reportedly one of Larry Fessenden’s least expensive films, but you wouldn’t know by looking at it. Fessenden has always had a gift in producing excellent indie films on a shoe-string budget, and Depraved is no exception. From the opening scene set to the folk song “More Than Enough” by Elizabeth & The Catapult to the sepia-toned climax, Depraved looks stunning and sounds great for a DIY indie thriller. I especially love the psychedelic imagery of the second act, as well as the lo-fi lighting, filters, and color gels used when trying to convey what is going on inside Adam’s head. Even the stylish credits are fun to look at!

Depraved Movie Review

If every great story has already been told, the trick is to find new ways to tell it. You’d think that there would be nothing left to say about Frankenstein, but thanks to Larry Fessenden’s unique perspective, he proves that even centuries-old stories can be torn apart and stitched back together in new ways.

I don’t want to oversell this movie. Depraved is good but not great. I’m not willing to call it his best work, but it is just one more accomplishment to add to his already crowded resume. Like any movie, Depraved has its fair share of flaws, but it’s also an extremely well-made, emotionally devastating, character-driven journey. By the end, Adam is just another lost soul wandering New York City — and like many others, he’s searching for answers, a purpose, and in his case, a soul.

  • Ricky D

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

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