Crimes of the Future - UK New Release Review
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Scott Speedman
Written by: David Cronenberg
Produced by: Robert Lantos, Steve Solomos
Cinematography by: Douglas Koch
Original Score by: Howard Shore
A celebrity performance artist publicly showcases the metamorphosis of his organs in avant-garde performances.
It would be so easy just to say that this is a return to form for David Cronenberg, but did his form ever really wane at all anyway? It's more fitting to say that one of the greatest filmmakers of all time has come home to the very niche sub-genre that we all so lovingly associate him; body horror.
'Crimes of the Future' is as shocking as anything Cronenberg has ever written and directed before and ironically that very sentence is not shocking in the slightest. From the opening sequence, Cronenberg firmly lays the groundwork for almost two hours of reactions like "What the fuck is happening, these people are mental" and I am here for it.
Set in the not so distant future where physical pain towards the human body has all but been eradicated and making the world a very dangerous place because of it, Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), a highly regarded performance artist and his assistant Caprice (Léa Seydoux) routinely perform live "surgeries" in front of eager crowds and rolling cameras. Tenser is one of the few people on the planet who can somehow "grow" new organs that haven't previously existed in medical history. For his art he removes these organs, tattoos them and displays them in secret. He is a special human being but there are other special people in Cronenberg's fantastical evolutionary new world. Cronenberg always likes to open his films with something disturbing and memorable and as mentioned above the opening sequence introduces us to another "special" person, Brecken, a young boy whose digestive system allows him to eat plastic without injury or becoming ill. Unfortunately for Brecken, his Mother thinks this is anything but special and "euthanises" him by smothering him with a pillow. What the fuck indeed!
For most of the film we follow Saul and Caprice as we become interjected into their lives and the society with which humans have become accustomed to. They have a unique bond that ties them together and that bond becomes disjointed a bit when they are introduced to Wippet and Timlin, two colleagues who work for the National Organ Registry. Their relationship becomes even more strained when another stranger enters their lives who has a particularly speculative proposal for their next live performance. That stranger reveals himself to be Lang Dotrice, Brecken's father and his proposal is that Saul and Caprice perform a live autopsy on his son.
Caprice is the real artist and Saul is the canvas. Using a colour coded remote control, Caprice delicately probes Saul's chest and belly, dissecting his insides for the audience who watch on in a respective silence. But the audience are not the only ones getting anything out of this. Saul and Caprice seem to glow as they meticulously carry out their intricate practices. There's definitely some climaxing happening here. "Surgery is the new sex" as Kristen Stewart's Timlin professes half way through the film.
'Crimes of the Future' is everything you'd expect from a Cronenberg picture. It's violent and seductive, creepy and romantic, gory and sexy. It's a remarkably evocative piece of filmmaking that echoes much of what Cronenberg attempts to say with his classic 1983 film 'Videodrome'. It's essentially about the transformative state that the human body can reach when the word "impossible" is buried deep within the conscious mind. Like 'Videodrome' it explores the notion that the human body can almost become one with technology in a new type of evolution.
There's lots to like about 'Crimes of the Future' most notably the stellar cast. Léa Seydoux continues to bring me to my knees with ridiculously profound performances in recent years and that is no different here. Viggo is as good as always although I did find his incessant twitching and coughing frustrating at times. Kristen Stewart plays Timlin like a shy schoolgirl whose not quite sure if she deserves to be in the position she is even though she is exceedingly good at her job. Her character is a bit cheeky as the film progresses and as her urges towards Saul become more developed she steps out of her shell a little and you can see Stewart having lots of fun with that.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph of this review, the body horror is what we are here for and there's plenty of it on show. One of the most memorable scenes in the entire film is of a character affectionately known as Ear Man (his actual credited name is Klinik) played by Greek professional dancer Tassos Karahalios. His eyes and mouth have been sewn shut and the rest of his body is covered in human ears that have been surgically attached. It's a short but very freaky scene and it's impossible to look away. It will surely live on as a GIF in the annals of social media for a very long time.
If it's gore you like then it's gore you'll get. We're not talking Hammer Horror style over-saturated blood splatter but instead we get close ups of organ removals, body parts being attacked by surgical knives and even a drill going into the back of a human head. Bizarrely none of this feels over exploitative. Characters get their thrills from being cut and watching people being cut. Taking a leaf out of his 1996 controversial film 'Crash', some characters are even attracted to the wounds left by these surgeries. But perhaps the most disturbing scene is the actual autopsy of Brecken. Seeing a child lying in the cocoon-type operating table, completely naked, like a slab of meat is not a nice sight at all.
While the film is set in the future, I do like how Cronenberg doesn't go too far with the futuristic look and overall aesthetic. We see a marooned "spaceship" of sorts just off the coast in the opening scene and there's plenty of gadgets and gizmos but in all honesty they all look and feel like something that could exist a few years down the line. The designs of the apparatus used during the live art shows are gloriously H.R. Giger which are a lovely tribute. Despite these subtleties I felt myself feeling lacklustre about, of all things, the colour palette of the film. The set pieces are mostly gorgeous but the walls are too often brown and greys and dull blues. Much of the costume colour choices are dull colours with a few exceptions. Just the general overall hue of the film wasn't vibrant enough for me.
'Crimes of the Future' is a disturbing but thought provoking "return to form" for a filmmaker who has made a career out of being disturbing and thought provoking. Cronenberg's body of work is neither contentious or pretentious, it's just fucking brilliant and while this one may not quite live up to some of his previous classics (not quite yet anyway) it certainly deserves to be talked about for many years to come.
- Gavin Logan
'Crimes of the Future' is released in UK Cinemas Spetember 9th