Crimes of the Future SPOILER FREE Review: A Sickly Sexy Cronenberg Comeback

by Beanie White
Crimes of the future - David Cronenberg

Widely recognised as the master of body horror, David Cronenberg returns to his grisly roots for the first time in 8 years with Crimes of the Future.

Set in an ambiguous future world where technology and humankind have changed significantly to the point where most people cannot feel pain, Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) is a man afflicted with the most curious of conditions, “accelerated evolution syndrome.” This means that his body develops and grows organs at an alarming rate with no known explanation. Saul and his partner, Caprice (Léa Seydoux) have turned his perceived abnormality into sensual performance art, captivating audiences of all kinds. When Saul meets the leader of a resistance group, Lang (Scott Speedman) dedicated to pro-evolution, he begs him to perform an autopsy on his son Brecken who he claims was born with a naturally evolved digestive system due to an operation Lang himself had many years before.

I approached Crimes of the Future with the kind of contradictory fear of someone who writes horrific body horror but is actually pretty terrified of seeing it depicted on screen… I was expecting to be viewing much of the gorier content through my fingers whilst contorting my face into a myriad of disgusted expressions… Whilst the latter half of my prediction came true, it wasn’t supported by the former. The uncomfortable grotesqueness of this picture comes from the root of the line almost whispered by a nervy Kristen Stewart as Timlin: “surgery is the new sex.” There is something innately disturbing about subverting the act of sex, knives plunging in and out of female flesh becomes Cronenberg’s view of penile penetration, Caprice unzipping Saul’s stomach to pleasure his organs with her tongue becomes a form of in-world oral sex. Saul even rebuffs Timlin’s advances with the simple statement “I’m not good at the old sex.” CRAZY, but compelling for sure.  

The actual body horror itself is connected to this new sexual landscape and is offered sparingly with much suggestion, cutting just before it makes us sick to our stomach. This is such an effectively engaging idea, and it cuts through the rest of the plot, almost sabotaging the main plotline of the pro-evolutionists and their plight against the government and society. Perhaps the movie could have been a little more tangible if it had looked more closely at why this “surgery as sex” seems to be more acceptable than a naturally evolved young boy. The idea of evolution rendering future offspring as “no longer human” also seems underdeveloped in contrast with the surgery-mad world that Cronenberg so expertly brings to the forefront of the film. Although I have yet to delve into Cronenberg’s back catalogue, I am aware that the subversion of sex is a theme in his earlier movies, it seems strange to say that I wanted it to be expanded upon, but I think it would have served the world of Crimes of the Future better. I also had a slight issue with the ratio of female to male nudity, one scene in particular left a bitter taste in my mouth. Female nudity for titillation and male nudity for practicality is something I have grown accustomed to as a film fan, and it would have been nice to subvert that along with the subversion of sex.

I would like to give particular praise to the ways in which Cronenberg hurtles us straight into the world of Crimes of the Future with such strikingly singular set pieces and recurring visuals/sound effects. The absolute alienness of Saul’s bed and his eating chair, both designed to react and move to the rhythms of his pain, immediately shows us that we’re not in the world we know. It’s an unquestionably fantastic way to world-build and actually it solidifies the fact that we don’t need to be spoon-fed large amounts of VFX or CGI to be transported to future and/or alternative worlds. The simplicity of the flies gathering and buzzing endlessly around Cronenberg’s sets and characters help our imaginations fully enter his vision of a place where pain and disease are almost non-existent. A character woefully remarks that people no longer wash their hands, and this comes as a visceral blow, imagine a society where we don’t have to observe proper hygiene practices, how quickly would we descend into the subtle grime of Crimes of the Future? I enjoy the questions this movie presents, though sometimes I did feel that in certain dialogue-based scenes, namely those in the organ registration offices, we were being overloaded with world-building based dialogue.

Viggo Mortensen, a serial Cronenberg collaborator, gives a sensitive and world-wary performance as Saul Tenser, depicting extreme pain and discomfort through guttural throat noises and jarringly effective muscular contractions. We see his veins and tendons pop as he struggles to put his body through the very natural process of eating and digestion. Seydoux as Caprice is equally as interesting as she dedicates her life to the art of her performance, wanting to transcend to an auteur of their performances rather than simply a vessel. Other special mentions go to Scott Speedman as the grief-stricken father, seeking to expose his mission through the tragedy of his son’s death. Welket Bungué as an anti-evolutionary government detective also plays a quietly dangerous role, initially working with Saul, providing some great human exchanges, and leaving us wondering at the differences between right and wrong in the strange scenarios of the movie. For me, Kristen Stewart playing Timlin (a morally ambiguous employee at the organ registration offices) was a sure-fire scene-stealer. Her nervy portrayal was extremely unsettling and her scenes with Mortensen were magnetic to watch.  

It was actually extremely exciting to dive into Cronenberg’s comeback with little knowledge of his former filmography, now I’m able to delve back into the past and take a little body horror trip with a true master. The question is: do I have a strong enough stomach?? I kept my Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough milkshake down for this one so there’s hope for me yet…

Have you caught Cronenberg’s latest offering? If so, what were your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below! 


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