'Crimes of the Future' review: Body horror (and Cronenberg) at their tamest
Courtesy of Neon
There’s a certain hype which emulates during the opening credits of a David Cronenberg film where you’re unsure which version of the famed provocateur showed up. Is it the one who pushed boundaries (and patience) with “Crash” or subverted the senses in “Videodrome?” It’s always a gamble and for his latest project, a remake of his own 1970 film, “Crimes of the Future” the answer isn’t as cut and dry. For some, it’ll certainly fill that Cronenberg itch that’s been on hiatus for seven years, and others, like myself, will be chasing more, wondering why the anointed prince of flesh waited to deliver a film that never finds a connective tissue worth exploring. Cronenberg is nothing if not messy, but the overall execution and lack of emotional investment leaves “Crimes of the Future” lost in an uninteresting wasteland.
“Crimes of the Future” doesn’t abide by a normal three-act structure, which is to be expected considering the director is notorious for ambiguity, but the unconventional storytelling strays too far from the path, it becomes a nuisance trying to keep up. One can admire a film for trying to break the mold of what audiences expect from cinema, however, the narrative in “Crimes of the Future” is missing an extra layer of protection and panders to a fanbase who, by the first body horror sequence, will likely be salivating at the mouth. Everyone else will shrug off the excess weight with nothing left to piece together because the movie hits you with obvious metaphors, leaving minimal room for contemplation. Unlike “Crash” which poked and prodded at variations of sexual intimacy in a bold way, “Crimes of the Future” literally pokes and prods its subjects without anything new to say other than the real “crime” of the future is ourselves.
Set in the distant future, where humans have evolved into painless organisms and their bodies are used for street art, a performance couple, Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and Caprice (Lea Seydoux) have made a name for themselves among the community for an array of jaw-dropping displays. Tenser is a breeding ground for new organs which he grows and has surgically removed, usually in front of a live audience, for scientific research. It’s a gripping world that I wish Cronenberg would have spent more time unspooling. How do people operate without pain receptors? How did Saul become a super-charged organ donor?
Instead, “Crimes of the Future” stays on one track, concluding with the couple’s most shocking and stomach churning performance. Which means, intriguing ideas like the creation of the National Organ Registry aren’t given their due aside from an odd Kristen Stewart portrayal where the Oscar nominee delivers her lines in a hushed whisper. “Surgey is sex” she declares at one point, and then spends the entire movie in the shadows trying to deliver on that single line of dialgoue. You’d think some tension might arouse from this subplot, but Stewart, like the setting, feel like afterthoughts.
By Cronenberg standards, “Crimes of the Future” is one of his tamest and reports of several walkouts from various film festivals won't link up with the gore factor on screen. Sure, there’s grueling imagery and solid practical effects, but nothing anywhere close to the shock value of “Crash” which was about people getting stimulated by car accidents. “Crimes of the Future'' benefits from stylized scenic designs and exceptional foley effects, but the world isn’t lived in enough to justify all the mounds of expository line delivery one must endure in order to cross the finish line. As a starter for those hopping on the bandwagon, “Crimes of the Future” is a fascinating study of the director’s unique vision, but it’s also a poor example of execution.
CRIMES OF THE FUTURE is now playing in theaters.