David Cronenberg hasn’t made a movie in eight years, and he hasn’t made a proper “body horror” movie in far longer than that — since 1999’s eXistenZ, where futuristic gamers plug consoles directly into their bodies. Is the director of such vomit bag classics as Scanners, Videodrome, and The Fly — to say nothing of transgressive sex movies like Crash and Naked Lunch — back in the habit? The first reviews of his new Crimes of the Future, say yes — but they also promise something else: an experience that, at least on first viewing, isn’t easy to get a hold on.
The new Crimes of the Future (not to be confused with a somewhat similar early work from 1970 of the same name) stars regular Viggo Mortensen as a performance artist (named Saul Tenser) who has become obsessed with growing new kinds of organs inside his body, crafted by his personal surgeon (Léa Seydoux). Having cast Robert Pattinson in his last two films, Cronenberg turns to fellow Twilight alum Kristen Stewart, who plays a government agent who examines their work.
Despite breaking through as a master of horror, Cronenberg is also what you could dub a maker of art films, and he’s long fused the two genres in ways that are both beguiling and sometimes tricky to grok. It can take multiple viewings to get what he’s doing, especially when he strays from genre, as he’s done with the likes of Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, Crash, and more. Though Crimes’ first wave of Cannes reviews have been positive, even the raves are tempered with warnings that it can be rough going. Cronenberg himself has promised mass walk-outs, and the reviews agree that it’s at least pretty darn gross.
Whether you have the stomach to survive “Crimes of the Future” would seem to be a more complicated matter. At a time when holy s*it, you have to see this insanity has become the fastest shortcut for arthouse fare to get around the always-suffocating layers of superhero movie hype, it was inevitable that Cronenberg’s first movie since “Maps to the Stars” would be positioned as some kind of sick endurance test that found him revisiting the familiar preoccupations of body horror classics like “Dead Ringers” and “The Fly” so that he could combine all of their gnarliest moments into a career-spanning orgy of squelching latex.
Variety argues that is “out to provoke and disturb us with something far more traumatic than mere monsters”:
Am I talking about the fact that in the distant future where the film is set, human beings grow mysterious new organs in their bodies? Or that having those organs removed through surgery has become, for a creepy rebel aesthete named Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), a species of performance art? Or that people no longer experience physical pain, and will therefore stand in the street late at night cutting each other for cheap thrills, as if they were shooting heroin in a back alley? Or that surgery itself, as someone puts it, has become “the new sex”?
Entertainment Weekly describes it as a “Cronenberg Greatest Hits” collection, “so loaded does it it come with his signature themes and gooey, seemingly hand-crafted contours.” Critic Leah Greenblatt also calls it “inscrutable,” saying that, “Aside from a few neat visual tricks — a chair seemingly made of rubberized bones, a writhing dancer dotted with real human ears like a walking Duchamp punchline — the film unfurls mostly in shadows and corners, and so do its characters’ inner lives.”
His new film — titled “Crimes of the Future,” as in committed by rather than during that span of time — finds the master on the other side of his extended sojourn in high-minded literary adaptation, biopic quasi-prestige, and Tinseltown satire, back to playing the body-horror hits on which he made his name. He’s resumed pondering the permeability of flesh, how its penetration by surgical tools (the new sex, as we’re informed) can be just as intimately sensual as good old fornication. We’re treated to state-of-the-art grotesqueries
Originally readied for production in 2003 before being canceled, this is a film very much targeted to the director’s core audience; rarely, if ever, have human organs played such an important role in one of his works, and that’s saying something. But whether it’s age or inclination, he’s having a bit of fun with his grotesque conceits here and taking them less seriously; he’s not at a self-parody stage, but there’s something of a wink behind what he’s doing that wasn’t often in evidence before.
And The A.V. Club:
Cronenberg’s A History Of Violence and Eastern Promises star Viggo Mortensen plays Saul Tenser, in eternal discomfort because his body is rebelling against him. Within him grow unnatural organs, which his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux) removes during live performance art ceremonies. They live in an underground bunker, or maybe it’s a dried-out aqueduct, and Saul sleeps in what looks like a giant upside-down beetle. He eats in a contraption made from bones that jostles him around, supposedly to help him digest. Whenever he goes out, he wears a cloak like he’s about to sing backup for Enigma. Nothing about it makes a lick of sense, but there’s a surreal flow to it all that, in the moment, carries you from scene to scene.
Crimes of the Future is set to be released in June. You can watch the latest red band trailer above, though be forewarned: It’s intense.