Henry (David Call), the doctor in Larry Fessenden’s “Depraved,” isn’t actually called Frankenstein, but he’s the contemporary equivalent. A onetime Army surgeon, Henry suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and a maniacal need to make positive use of his harrowing experiences. What he learned about death, he believes, he can use to create life.
The result of this obsession is a bundle of stitched-together body parts known as Adam (Alex Breaux), whose brain we meet while it’s still inside the skull of its about-to-be-murdered previous owner. That organ’s memories — often surrounded by bright bubbles of light, as if trapped in a lava lamp — help bond Adam to his creator, whose battlefield flashbacks are equally destabilizing.
In time, their relationship grows quietly touching; yet if Henry’s motives seem pure, those of his cynical business partner (Joshua Leonard) are anything but.
Shot in just 24 days in Brooklyn, N.Y., “Depraved” updates Mary Shelley’s classic tale with a coating of wartime trauma and medical-breakthrough profiteering. Making the most of his limited budget, not unusual for the prolific Fessenden, he has produced possibly his most coherent and visually polished work to date. The makeup effects and lead performances are excellent, and Fessenden’s signature cheek (two strip-club employees are called Stormy and Melania) never tips into silliness.
Though overlong and leaning predictably on old-school horror setups — like the beautiful barfly (this one is played by Addison Timlin) who trustingly toddles home with the monosyllabic weirdo — “Depraved” builds empathy for its exploited creature. Beginning with lovemaking and ending in loneliness, the movie has an unexpected poignancy: At the end of the day, it seems, all a monster really wants is a girl of his own.