Crimes of the Future marks the long-anticipated comeback of David Cronenberg since his last directorial effort in 2014’s Maps to the Stars. And that is not all, as his latest endeavour sees the Canadian auteur finally return to his familiar sci-fi body-horror roots — the very genre that made him such a distinctive filmmaker in the first place. And the last time he visited the genre was eXistenZ back in 1999.
I was actually expecting a lot from Cronenberg since Crimes of the Future (no relation to his 1970 movie of the same name) boasts an intriguing premise. He imagines a dystopian future where the severity of climate change has drastically altered the human race and more significantly, their bodies. The movie also introduces two performance artists named Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and Caprice (Lea Seydoux), where the former has mutant-like organs that regularly grow in his body. His partner, who is a former trauma surgeon, would surgically remove them in front of the live audience as part of their performance-art show in the name of self-expression and entertainment.
Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with Cronenberg’s movies. Some are thought-provokingly excellent (1983’s Videodrome, 1986’s The Fly, 1988’s Dead Ringers and 1996’s Crash are among the prime examples). And some others are either muted or tedious (1993’s M. Butterfly and 2012’s Cosmopolis come to mind). I hate to say this but Crimes of the Future falls to the latter. Cronenberg, who also wrote his own screenplay, may have been conceptually fascinating but his overall execution is strangely dull and hollow.
Problem is, the whole thing feels uninvolving that it’s hard for me to care about whatever so-called pain and suffering the performance-artist couple — particularly Saul — have to go through. Both Viggo Mortensen and Lea Seydoux are good character actors and they definitely do better works than this. Their performances come across as dreadful and so do the rest of the actors, notably Kristen Stewart’s supporting role as a (fictional) National Organ Registry investigator who whispers her way throughout the movie. All of these actors would spend their time spewing out expository-heavy dialogues, which could benefit better from the “show, but don’t tell” approach.
With the lack of emotion and strong character arcs, Crimes of the Future feels as clinical as Cronenberg’s direction. He may have something to say metaphorically about the self-destructive behaviour and selfishness of human nature. Or how the drastic evolution of the human race would have possibly become if common things like pain and pleasure are not what they used to be. But none of them matters if everything feels oddly disconnected.
Not even at one point, where a character quoted the words “surgery is the new sex”, there’s nothing provocative to be found that I would expect otherwise from David Cronenberg. The so-called bizarre “sex” is disappointingly tame, particularly when compared to Cronenberg’s erotically-charged Crash which perfectly showcased the twisted fetishes for symphorophilia, a form of sexual arousal related to car crashes and traffic accidents. Speaking of Crash, there’s a minor callback to that controversial 1996 movie involving Caprice and Saul. Gore moments involving surgeries and body mutilations are equally a letdown as well.
Crimes of the Future does get off to an eerie start — the opening scene involves a mother and a boy in a secluded home, where Cronenberg’s icy-cold direction works well in his favour. The scene itself reportedly caused the majority of walkouts during the movie’s screening at the recent Cannes Film Festival. Still, it just isn’t enough to compensate for most of the shortcomings that I admit having a tough time enduring throughout the movie’s largely monotonous 107-minute length.
Frankly, it’s a shame that the otherwise ambitious Crimes of the Future doesn’t turn out to be as good as it should be. By the time the movie ends abruptly that would spark an open debate about all the whys and whats, I was left bewildered as the end credits start to roll. It was no doubt one of the unexpectedly worst movies I’ve ever seen this year.
Earlier in May, there was a report about David Cronenberg would next direct Vincent Cassel in a thriller called The Shrouds. Cassel, of course, previously collaborated with Cronenberg in Eastern Promises (2007) and A Dangerous Method (2011). Here’s hoping that Cronenberg’s upcoming work would redeem the near-train wreck of his new movie.
Crimes of the Future is currently streaming on Mubi.