With every new David Cronenberg movie comes a level of excitement. My anticipation for Crimes of the Future rose with reports of a six-minute standing ovation from Cannes. What really piqued my interest were reports of walk-outs from Cannes. Cronenberg is a master of body horror, and Crimes of the Future sounded like his most beautifully twisted film in years. However, I’m not convinced the walk-outs were solely based on graphic imagery. It’s not for those with weak stomachs, but the film’s main issue is that it’s surprisingly dull.
Cronenberg movies have two speeds. The Fly, Eastern Promises, and Scanners appealed to more mainstream audiences with their solid pacing. Films like Videodrome and Dead Ringers were slower, but the otherworldly environments and surreal premises could still suck Cronenberg fans in. Crimes of the Future has Cronenberg’s surreal stamp, but it lacks interesting enough characters and ideas to justify its sluggish pace or underwhelming resolution.
It’s a shame Crimes of the Future isn’t more engaging for a few reasons. The film marks Cronenberg’s first sci-fi horror picture of the 21st century, his last one being 1999’s Existenz. The potential for something more compelling is in grasp, as Crimes of the Future feels like one of Cronenberg’s most self-aware film. The story sets itself in the future (obviously) where Saul (Viggo Mortensen) and Caprice (Léa Seydoux) have turned the removal of organs into performance art. Some find it entertaining, others find it sexual, and others find it wrong. That’s how most audiences feel about Cronenberg’s work, which invites potential for a meta-analysis of his career. Cronenberg never takes advantage of this opening, however.
Cronenberg also fails to fully utilize the film’s most absorbing presence, Kristen Stewart. Adding to her growing list of risky roles, Stewart shines as a bureaucrat’s assistant whose interest in Saul isn’t strictly professional. Stewart’s Timlin becomes fascinated with Saul, whose condition allows him to grow new organs in his body. This dynamic delivers no payoff, though, and the same can be said about the film itself. Cronenberg has never been known for wrapping up his movies in a tidy package, but unlike some of his other films, the abrupt ending here is more frustrating than thought-provoking.
For all its shortcomings, there is much to admire in Crimes of the Future. Mortensen delivers a physically commanding performance, moving with the vigor of a man half his age. Cronenberg offers several inspired visuals, namely a man covered in ears. Even on that level, though, Cronenberg has given us more disgustingly gorgeous films. Aesthetic aside, what is that movie trying to say? For that matter, why does it share the same title as Cronenberg’s unrelated 1970 film? Cronenberg doesn’t seem to know and I have no idea.
Maybe I will in time, but for now, I’m glad I saw Crimes of the Future as a Cronenberg fan. With Cronenberg being something of a divisive figure, there are sure to be others who identify more with the film than me. In typical Cronenberg fashion, some will applaud, others will walk out, and people like myself will admire the film more than they enjoy it. Crimes of the Future isn’t a bad movie, but it’s easy to remove from your conscious, with or without surgery. And if there’s one thing a Cronenberg film shouldn’t be, it’s forgettable.