Movie review: Crimes of the Future

Beware the comeback, dear reader – that is my advice when it comes to David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future. The Canadian visionary has been out of the filmmaking game since 2014’s vicious Hollywood drama, Map to the Stars, leaving his son Brandon to take of the family business with his excellent Anitviral and Possessor. Eight years without a Cronenberg film marks one comeback, but it’s Crimes of the Future’s status as the director’s first proper body horror movie since 1999’s deeply weird Existenz that marks the other.

When you’re a filmmaker that has been away from a genre or style that you have popularized, or in Cronenberg’s case become synonymous with, the pressure is off for once. Just do a good enough iteration of what you have done before, helped by your status getting you better actors than you previously had access to, and you will be hailed as returning monarchy.

This is what Cronenberg is currently enjoying with Crimes of the Future thrilling and disgusting people in equal measure, but this position feels false to me. I’m a fan of Cronenberg, I love his films, I love his ideas, and I like Crimes of the Future, but compared to the rest of his filmography, his newest journey into the body feels a little minor – despite the furore that its alleged nastiness has caused.

There is a lot to love here. The world-building is as precise as ever, as Cronenberg takes us to a setting in which human pain has become extinct – the only plausible (in his world) resolution is to cut each other up for art, sex, and money, pain morphed into luxury and pleasure. It’s a film steeped in neo-noir with bent cops, informants, and the like, while also being a slicker send-up of media and art than Velvet Buzzsaw could ever wish to be. It’s Cronenberg playing the hits, helped by a very game cast, which includes Viggo Mortenson, Lea Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, and a surprisingly good Scott Speedman.

The star,though, as usual, is Cronenberg himself. Mixed in with all the viscera is the director taking a look at the state of the industry that wouldn’t even fund him during his exile, and not liking what he sees – or his own role in it. Cronenberg isn’t subtle here – characters sigh over the provocative delight of trauma after cutting up their faces for the sake of art – but a tongue-in-cheek attitude keeps it from feeling too self-involved. It’s typically nasty and that nastiness is exquisitely formed, but not exactly as stomach-churning or transgressive as Cronenberg’s work once felt. With the director’s place as part of pop culture, though, that’s to be expected.

It’s a mark of how prevalent and watered-down tentpole cinema has become that Crimes of the Future can make the impact that it has. That’s a good thing for this movie, but it shouldn’t take David Cronenberg in 2022 to show that there is an appetite for this kind of transgressive cinema.

Crimes of the Future is a strange and funny creature, a welcome return from the king of body horror, but it is far from his best or most shocking work. Though eight people did walk out of our screening. The old man’s still got it – even if what “it” is in the mainstream seems to have come down a few notches.

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By Kevin Boyle

(header image via HeyUGuys)

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