I was skeptical going into Crimes of the Future, however Cronenberg’s return after 8 years was (mostly) a satisfying event.
Written by Jack Ransom / September 16, 2022
David Cronenberg’s return to the body horror sub-genre that cemented his directorial reputation. Crimes of the Future sees humans attempting to adapt to a synthetic environment, with new transformations and mutations. With his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux), Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), a celebrity performance artist, publicly showcases the metamorphosis of his organs in avant-garde performances.
Cronenberg’s filmography (that I have seen so far) has proven very divisive to me. I think The Fly is his grotesque creativity at its finest, whilst cult favourite features such as The Brood and Scanners I’ve found largely dull and cold affairs despite the wild practical effects. His crime thriller and drama affairs (Eastern Promises, A History of Violence and Spider) I have found largely more appealing, though Cosmopolis I found to be a complete chore. I was skeptical going into Crimes of the Future, however Cronenberg’s return after 8 years was (mostly) a satisfying event.
It’s certainly apparent when seeing various audience scores scattered around review sites that the film is divisive (I mean it’s Cronenberg, that is to be expected) and that is certainly understandable. The film is undeniably a slow-burn affair, but it never felt like it dragged or particularly meander, if anything it could have benefited from being slightly longer to help flesh out some of the side characters and plots. I was morbidly drawn into this heavily cryptic, disturbing and bleak, saturated world. Yes, it is a lot to digest upon first viewing and it can be argued that the film relies more on style over substance, but the lingering investigatory side-plot and glimpses into the society that Caprice and Saul thrive in were enough to help slither along the narrative.
Stylistically Crimes of the Future substantially presents its locations as a morbidly grey, neutered and pale colour palette of browns, tinges of yellow, sickly greens (with the claustrophobic National Organ Registry being a crumbling amalgamation of these). The industrial, hard edged external locales don’t stray too far out of our own believable reality. There is a grandiosity and seedy glamour to the setting of Caprice and Saul’s show and the event itself is a discomforting display of impressively gruesome practical effects and effective editing and camera angles. The designs for Saul’s various biomechanical pain management devices blend a sentient alien quality with robotic future tech and the score is consistent looming yet subtle beast that occasionally carved through when most needed.
One of my criticisms of some of Cronenberg’s previous works was that the characters frequently felt too cold and emotionless to really lock onto. Whilst that still can be applied here at times, the calibre of the cast absolutely mould the performances into engrossing characters despite their sometimes stilted and robotic demeanours. Mortensen’s consistently weakened, choking, coughing mysterious cloak and mask doused ‘accelerated evolution syndrome’ sufferer partners brilliantly with Seydoux’s gliding, mysterious and piercing performance partner and the pair feel very genuine in the intimate sequences. I wish there was more of Kristen Stewart’s whispering, twitchy and forward office worker Timlin, who finds herself drawn into the duo’s world.
Crimes of the Future is a very solid return from Cronenberg and brought a morbid grin to me personally, as the majority of one of his non-The Fly sci-fi horror features finally clicked with me. The engrossing world, (literally) peeling back the layers to expose well crafted and grimace inducing body horror goodness and the strong cast lineup largely overshadows the occasionally choppy and cryptic narrative.