David Cronenberg makes his return after an 8-year break from directing with Crimes of the Future. Not to be confused with Cronenberg’s second feature of the same name, the new Viggo Mortensen-led film isn’t actually a remake but more of an expansion of some of the themes and ideas he first toyed with in 1970. The king of body horror pulls no punches with copious amounts of disturbed close-ups, blood, and unsettling scenarios. As the title suggests, the film explores a potential future where the limits of biology have expanded beyond humanity’s wildest thoughts, and these various advancements are most explored through our leads in Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Scott Speedman, and Kristen Stewart.
The human species and technology are intertwined in such a way that people find pleasure in body morphing; the “new sex” is the synthetic transformation and mutilation of bodily parts. This radical change in society is capitalized on by Saul Tenser (Mortensen) and Caprice (Seydoux), two celebrity performance artists who extract organs as part of their craft. Things get further complicated by the rise of an extremist organ cult following the mysterious disappearance of a child. Their goal is to unveil the next step of human evolution by exposing their own newly formed organs and special properties at one of Saul and Caprice’s esteemed shows.
Crimes of the Future is somehow less far-out extreme than what’s been advertised; in fact, it is more of an intimate meditation on human adaptation and passion. Nevertheless, like most of Cronenberg’s past works, the film is uncompromising as it delves into the squeamish mechanics of this cosmically advanced world where everyone has become desensitized. Pain is a thing of the past, traditional pleasure has evolved, so people have found different ways of seeking that satisfaction. Cronenberg’s vision is radical but can sometimes become a little hazy as he overcomplicates the narrative by introducing underlying criminal schemes and police agencies, not too dissimilar from where his original 1970 film also starts to fall flat.
The most uninteresting parts of Crimes of the Future are scenes where Saul meets a secret contact in an abandoned yard; they serve no greater purpose than to add extra detail to this universe through excess exposition. More unbelievable than the disturbing practices in the film, these meetings ask the audience to buy into this supposed, all-powerful future Vice squad without showing us anything beyond just one member of the team, who seems relatively normal. Knowing Cronenberg, little to no decisions are unintentional when it comes to expressing duality and contrast, yet his latest film could have potentially benefited by finding a stronger payoff to these interactions which otherwise drag the viewing experience.
The strange, alien-like apparatuses that assist Mortensen’s Saul to eat and sleep are indicative of the film’s old-fashioned use of effects. There is a special harmony between the practical and the digital, it is quite seamless. Fans will undoubtedly freak out over the relentless cutting open of skin and the exposure and extraction of internal organs, although the true most unnerving aspect is the intimacy that the characters feel to these bodily incursions, such as the act of sensually licking a sewed-up “zipper” that holds a stomach together. Particularly, Kristen Stewart’s character has an oddly captivating effect as she embraces the weird, erotic nature of her unwavering interest and sexual attraction to Saul’s performative acts.
Viggo Mortensen’s artistic influencer is the center of the future’s fascination, Saul is the symbol of what so many desire. He is utterly longed for by many, however, his body, after so many incursions, struggles to maintain itself. Viggo Mortensen portrays Saul with a fascinating sense of mystery, when not in surgery his ambiguous figure is always masked in a vigilante, Assassins Creed-like robe and mask. Léa Seydoux is wonderful as usual, providing an essential sense of realness to even the most absurd things. Despite having a relatively small role, Kristen Stewart leaves the greatest impression. She begins by playing everything quietly but never too subtle as she stretches into more obsessive terrain, leaving behind some of the film’s most memorable scenes. Cronenberg does an admirable job at directing this cast to bring his absurd vision to life with plenty of credibility to spare. The film’s overall impact just woefully falters more due to scripting than anything else. Still, Seydoux and Stewart undeniably rock the film.
The camera observes while the lighting remains soft and intimate, enlightening the audience to a whole new world where pain is intertwined with lust. David Cronenberg’s obsession with the human body is on full show here as expected, unfortunately, he has few new points to make. It’s a fine serving of the bizarre at this beloved filmmaker’s precise hand, delivering most of its promises on time and nothing more. Even so, this will be enough for diehard Cronenberg fans as they’ll surely walk out fulfilled. As for other spectators? Perhaps not so much. Crimes of the Future makes for a compelling, yet disjointed watch as one becomes steeped into the depths of Cronenberg’s twisted mind.