Depraved is one of Larry Fessenden's most satisfying films. The director is revered among horror buffs, thanks to his ability to combine artistry with first-class chills in pictures such as Habit, Wendigo, and Beneath. This time, he delivers a thoughtful update of the Frankenstein story. Anyone with an appreciation for smart, well-crafted horror should line up for this one.

Henry (David Call) is a traumatized war veteran/demented genius who has figured out how to bring the dead back to life. His creation is Adam (Alex Breaux), a stitched-together man with a stolen brain inside his head. While his actions are ethically questionable at best, Henry at least tries to teach Adam appropriate skills. Business partner Polidori (The Blair Witch Project's Joshua Leonard), on the other hand, proves to be a corrupting influence. The two men essentially battle over who will control the entity Adam turns out to be.

Depraved partially deals with the traditional “you shouldn't play God” idea. Its real strength, however, is as a metaphor for parenthood, specifically the way parental figures can shape a child – or, in this case, a man-creature -- for better or worse. Henry is the (relatively) good dad who tries to instill some values in Adam. Polidori is the bad dad who takes him to a strip club and ensures that an inner sense of rage is both developed and unleashed. Fessenden handles the examination of nurturing with great thoughtfulness, so that the horror elements are grounded in something identifiable.

At the same time, there's plenty about the movie that is eerie. As Polidori gains more of a hold on Adam, the possibility of danger rises. Adam's behavior becomes erratic and aggressive. Fessenden gives Depraved an increasingly atmospheric tone that underscores how things go off the rails for the characters. In an unusual but effective technique, colored circles intermittently draw themselves over the screen, almost as though we're seeing sun spots. Different viewers could form different interpretations of what they represent; that's part of the fun.

Without a strong central performance, Depraved would not work. We have to believe that Adam is not-quite-human, and that he's absorbing many things he initially doesn't understand. Breaux nails a tough role, credibly turning the character into a blank slate that's gradually filled with information. He's fantastic. Call and Leonard are also good as the dueling partners.

At almost two hours, Depraved feels a bit too long. A couple of spots drag slightly. That minor issue aside, this is a stylish, intelligent riff on Frankenstein that engages your mind and your senses equally.

out of four

Depraved is unrated, but contains sexual content, strong language, and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 54 minutes.