Though the style of his work has varied through-out the years, the lasting memory of David Cronenberg’s work for many has always been met with one very specific descriptor; body horror. As he may very well be the king of the body horror genre, his last six films– while maintaining an overall sense of Cronenbergian themes– have been more “straight-forward” affairs compared to his most famous works. Though many might argue that A History of Violence is his best film, his mark on society still revolves around the discomforting images of–as it would be known after his revolutionary 1983 film Videodrome– the “new flesh”. Now, the master is back with his most Cronenberg-esque film in years, Crimes of the Future. But does this return of the flesh have the markings of great film?
In the future, no one feels physical pain anymore. That is, all but one man…Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen). Not only does Saul suffer from a long forgotten sensation that society doesn’t recognize anymore; he also has gained the ability to grow new, unnecessary organs. Since physical pain is no longer a concern in this world, performance art of disfiguration and mutilation has become the new norm and a form of pleasure. Saul and his performance partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux) have a foothold on the top of live surgery hall of fame as she removes these unneeded organs in front of thrilled audiences. With their ever growing popularity, Saul and Caprice begin communicating with a new government entity, The National Organ Registry, who are trying to chronicle the lost knowledge that has come from the new future ways of life.
There is much more going on plot-wise in Crimes of the Future, but to chronical it all would take away from a bit of its mystery. If one thing is clear though, this is absolutely classic Cronenberg. In fact, in many ways Crimes of the Future is a film built out of bits and pieces of his collective back catalog merged into a new canvas. From the fleshy aesthetics of props that look like unused property from eXistenZ to almost mirrored plot points from one of his more recent triumphs that I will leave unnamed so as to not spoil the surprise; Crimes of the Future feels like it’s a Frankenstein’s Monster of a film. This is not a bad thing, either. But, for those who are familiar with his past works will all be having flashbacks throughout the film.
For the weak stomached out there, yes, there will be visuals and situations that may turn you off, or make you squint away in discomfort. In the end though (even if Cronenberg himself wants to make you feel uncomfortable), this is not a movie that aims to up the ante in gore and distaste. What you experience while watching Crimes of the Future is no more explicit than what Cronenberg has offered up before. The stakes may not be normal by typical theater goer standards, but they aren’t egregious or stomach churning in a way one might expect from the more tender souls who walked out during the film’s screening at Cannes.
Where Crimes of the Future slips up is by never clearly hanging onto a central enough theme to put all the pieces together. While there is a clear, very straight ahead delivery of a message here, there are too many moving parts that throw a wrench into the works. One minute you’re focused clearly on thoughts working hard to not lose our humanity. The next minute you’re thinking about the value and importance of art and how public opinion can be swayed so easily. A little later you’re going to start thinking the opposite of your first thought and start to question why humanity doesn’t start adapting to critical changes sooner.
The highlights of Crimes of the Future come from its performances. A tortured yet witty Viggo Mortensen, the troubled and focused Caprice via Léa Seydoux, the nervous and fidgety Scott Speedman as Lang Dotrice, the quirky and off-kilter presence of Tanaya Beatty and Nadia Litz as two start struck techs who fix Saul and Caprice’s equipment, and most lovable of all for me, Don McKellar as the nebbish-y overzealous Wippet, head of the National Organ Registry. These performances really do wonders to separate Crimes of the Future from your traditional Cronenberg experience.
For the Cronenberg faithful, Crimes of the Future will either be a new favorite or an acceptable entry into his ever growing filmography. In the end though, it will be hard to find any of his fans that are wholly disappointed with the experience.
Final Grade: B-
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Here’s the trailer of the film.