Crimes of the Future is David Cronenberg’s first feature film since 2014’s less-than-stellar Maps To The Stars. It also shares its title with another Cronenberg film from 1970, but the two have nothing in common. Crimes of the Future still feels overly familiar, both in good and bad ways. It’s exciting to see Cronenberg explore bodily horrors once again, but there is a sense that the master of body horror has lost his edge.
Set in the not-too-distant future, Viggo Mortensen plays Saul Tenser, a man whose body conjures up new organs spontaneously. Mankind has biologically evolved and there is no such thing as infection, so Saul and his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux) are removing Saul’s new organs in front of a keen audience. They’ve made surgery into theatre and people are lapping it up.
Kristen Stewart steps into the narrative as Timlin, a mousey official who is keen on registering all new organs. Caprice explores her own desires to modify and even violate her body as Saul experiences more and more extreme changes. Scott Speedman’s mysterious character, part of a revolutionary cell, contacts Saul for help to reveal their agenda and potentially change the world.
Cronenberg isn’t on unfamiliar territory here; he’s explored the ways the human body can be corrupted and revolutionised before in his filmography, as has his son Brandon Cronenberg with his films Antiviral and Possessor. Must run in the family, then. It’s genuinely thrilling to see Cronenberg Sr. operate on this scale again, but Crimes of the Future lacks teeth.
The film is strangely tame visually. It lacks the seductive, sexy edge that even Cronenberg’s more extreme films have. The ideas at the film’s heart are interesting and timely and could be interpreted as a dig at commercialism, but it’s only ever explored in a very shallow manner. It’s almost as if just as we’re getting to the good part, the juicy, meaty heart of it all, Cronenberg pulls back.
That isn’t to say that Cronenberg has lost his visual eye. Crimes of the Future is still a feast for the eyes, even if the colour palette is a bit dull. His framing is as interesting as ever and his entire cast are on the same wavelength. There is a slowness, quietness to Crimes of the Future; this isn’t a loud, overly gory film but perhaps just a scattering of interesting thoughts and ideas, looked at through the lens of body horror.
Mortensen, Cronenberg’s long-time collaborator, plays it safe as Saul. Saul is a very passive protagonist; things happen to him and around him, but he rarely plays an active part in any of it. Seydoux’s Caprice and Speedman’s Lang are both much more interesting but ultimately pushed to the sidelines.
Stewart seems to have some interesting ideas about Timlin, but her appearance is brief and insignificant. She mutters the film’s most scandalous line – ”Surgery is the new sex” – but mostly, she just silently lurks on the screen.
As such, Crimes of the Future is disappointing. It’s not wild or extreme enough to satisfy any cravings one has for a Cronenberg film. It’s one solid re-write away from a truly mesmerising film. But there is much to enjoy, especially the impressive prosthetics. Crimes of the Future isn’t an instant Cronenberg classic, but it’s still an intriguing addition to his larger body of work.
Crimes Of The Future will be released in UK and Irish cinemas on the 9th September