Cinematic Releases: Crimes of the Future (2022) - Reviewed

Courtesy of NEON
When we last saw David Cronenberg which was almost eight years ago, he was railing against Hollywood with his cynical and irascible Maps to the Stars, a film which for many closed the doors on the brilliant writer-director’s career on a defeatist note.  But after the director’s son Brandon Cronenberg’s phantasmagorical Possessor and frequent collaborator Viggo Mortensen’s Falling (also starring Cronenberg) came out, the uncompromising master of clinical filmmaking as intellectual and visceral body horror got a renewed sense of urgency and purpose. 
Cronenberg, now 79 years old, has come full circle by revisiting his past themes and works while tearing apart what we thought we knew about the artist.  Like the infamous head shot in Scanners that forever shaped the face of the science-fiction horror community, Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future (a reimagining of his 1970 college student film) could be the provocateur’s most explosive film since The Fly, firing on every cylinder conceptually and audio-visually a complete return to form.  As with Dead Ringers and Crash, Cronenberg charges full steam ahead with his brutal existential horror vision whether it ejects the faint hearted from their theater seats or not. 

Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and his partner Caprice (Lea Seydoux) are a traveling performance artist group who present the unusual practice of Saul growing and surgically extracting anomalous new internal organs before a live audience, usually with the help of “desktop surgery”.  When Saul is not performing he recharges his energy in an organic tentacled pod bed called an OrchidBed, he’s seen sitting in some kind of height chair to painlessly eat food that will recall the mugwumps from Cronenberg’s own Naked Lunch.  As their show sparks unwanted attention from the National Organ Registry run by Wippet (Don McKellar) and his assistant Timlin (Kristen Stewart), they’re drawn into a bizarre crime involving a little boy with a taste for eating plastic.
From its fleshy bloody organic looking opening titles to its sterile yet decrepit setting, keen blending of computer effects and practical effects props, Crimes of the Future is kind of like what Cronenberg described would happen if you just drilled a hole into his head and projected his dreams onscreen.  Much like the student film, we’re dropped into a strange kind of daylight netherworld where people speak in biological philosophical tangents with no immediate connective tissue available to relate to until over the course of the movie thematic elements present themselves.  Cronenberg’s brand of visceral and existential horror is so unique Crimes of the Future feels as if it belongs to its own genre.
Slimy, alien and biomechanical with sticky, penetrative imagery featuring surgical machinery that looks frankly extraterrestrial in form, Crimes of the Future while repulsive is also elegantly filmed by Douglas Koch, marking a departure from his longtime cinematographer Peter Suschitzsky.  Intensely controlled and framed with asymmetrical camera placement, filming the actors at Dutch angles or moving above the actors’ bodies like the operating machines that cut and slice at their naked flesh, Crimes of the Future is shot and blocked with scalpel precision.

Then there’s Howard Shore’s eloquent if not brooding orchestral score which has always been the near-bloodless vaguely emotional characteristic setting the mood of the world of his films.  Shore has been with Cronenberg from the very beginning, so entuned to the director’s ideas and stylistic choices they needn’t even speak to each other for Shore to deliver a magnificent original composition.  While The Fly might be my favorite of the Shore scores for the sheer emotional outbreak, Shore hasn’t lost his touch for letting blood flow through the biomechanical veins of Cronenberg’s universe.
It goes without saying Viggo Mortensen and Cronenberg, in their fourth film together, make a really great actor-director team where the two seem to bring more out of each other creatively and professionally.  Here Viggo is tasked with diving head over heels deep into Cronenberg’s bizarre and discomforting medical invasiveness while still giving the character of Saul, lurking the seaside shores in an Emperor Palpatine black hood, a unique personality and obviously amorphous “hero” of the film.  The rest of the cast is all over the map, notably Kristen Stewart who gives something of a spastic, neurotic performance and Lea Seydoux is just tickled pink to have her naked body sliced and prodded by organic alien looking surgical machinery.
Over the course of the movie, a recurring theme of surgery as new form of sexual expression, is reiterated while also hinting at the evolutionary steps in humanity as technological innovation continues.  Scenes of naked bodies lying in rippled, fleshy looking cocoons as mechanical arms poke and prod at them become oddly eroticized, much like the twisty broken burning metallic sex of Crash.  Mutilation is also eroticized with more than a few affronting moments of bourgeoisie slicing up their faces, arms, abdomens and feet.  Not since Crash or eXistenZ has the Canadian writer-director’s work felt so…invasive upon our comfort zones.

As a spectator, watching Cronenberg’s full throated provocation come at you is a bit like lying in the surgical biomechanical chair yourself as the director snips out your internal organs and places them neatly on a sterilized table for wealthy aristocrats to see.  You might not “enjoy” this experience but it will perhaps leave you with a renewed outlook on the world and body you live in.  Not for the faint hearted but for Cronenberg-philes, not to be missed: an uncompromising original stroke of body-horror genius.

--Andrew Kotwicki