Directed by David Cronenberg.
Starring James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Deborah Kara Unger, Rosanna Arquette, and Peter MacNeill.
A couple looking to spice up their sex life discover an underground cult of car crash victims who get sexual thrills out of road traffic accidents.
A timely release given that Brandon Cronenberg’s sublime Possessor has hit digital platforms to positive reviews this month, with Arrow Video have delving into his father’s back catalogue to add David Cronenberg’s controversial 1996 movie Crash to their ever-growing roster of 4K UHD releases.
Like with most films made by a Cronenberg the plot, when written down, looks to be something of – at the very least – an oddity or at the other end of the spectrum, the workings of a deranged genius. Crash very much falls into the latter category and, despite being based on the transgressive novel by J.G. Ballard, has David Cronenberg’s fingerprints all over it, from the twisted perversions of its lead characters and the coldness of the performances through to the matter-of-fact way the story unfolds and, of course, the use of the cars themselves (David Cronenberg is a motorsport enthusiast).
And what is this plot? Well, James Ballard (James Spader – Wall Street/Pretty in Pink) is a film producer in an open marriage with his wife Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger – Payback), but neither person seems to get the satisfaction they crave. However, all of that changes when James is involved in a car accident, killing the driver of the other car and injuring the passenger, his wife Helen (Holly Hunter – Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice). Whilst James and Helen are both recovering in hospital they meet photographer Vaughn (Elias Koteas – The Thin Red Line), who takes an interest in their injuries, and when they leave the hospital they start an affair, fuelled by their shared experience in the crash and by being in cars themselves.
It also turns out that Vaughn has a peculiar fetish for cars, car accidents and the victims as he hosts regular re-enactments of celebrity car crashes using stunt drivers and actors, these shows bringing James, Helen and Catherine into contact with several people who share this kink and before long Ballard is a full-on follower of Vaughn and his cult-like philosophies, leading himself and Catherine towards the inevitable sexual high that they have been craving.
So yes, Crash has David Cronenberg all over it thanks to its depictions of sex and violence, bodily scarification and the treating of bizarre infatuations as if they were totally normal. At one point Vaughn reveals that he is interested in ‘reshaping of the human body by modern technology’ and that is something that could apply to several different David Cronenberg movies – most notably Videodrome – but Crash is not body horror in the same way as his ‘80s films depict it. The body horror here is less about the gore or the piercing of the body but more about the stimulation of the body and the mind by the machinery of the car working with the body, almost like it is David Cronenberg using technology as pornography.
Naturally, all of this sex and despicable behaviour comes at a cost and Crash had the honour of being jeered and booed at during its screening at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as being banned by numerous local authorities the world over. Of course, these types of receptions only serve to bolster the movie’s reputation and although Crash does have its flaws – most notably in its performances – you can’t come away from it and say you weren’t moved by it; whether it is a positive reaction is a matter for your own conscience but, if nothing else, it does make you think about it long after the credits have rolled.
The enhanced 4K image is, for the most part, very crisp and detailed. It occasionally gets a little fuzzy around the edges during interior scenes when the actors’ faces are in close-up but on the whole Crash looks very clean and detailed during the car chases, crashes and injury shots. Despite it not being a colourful film the small details such as the lights on the cars are quite vibrant against the deep blacks and shadowy greys of the highways and highlight the excellent lighting work of DOP Peter Suschitzky. Extras include brand new interviews with Peter Suschitzky, composer Howard Shore, executive producer Jeremy Thomas and casting director Deirdre Bowen, an audio commentary with film scholar Adrian Martin, recent(ish) Q&A sessions with David Cronenberg and a variety of alumni (including Viggo Mortensen), video essays, archival behind the scenes footage, two short films inspired by J.G. Ballard’s works and two very odd David Cronenberg short films that hardcore fans will no doubt want to own on disc.
Twenty-four years on Crash still manages to hold onto its power and its mystique. It isn’t a film you can say you like, nor is it a film you could honestly say is great, but the fact that it exists and still manages to ruffle feathers is enough for it to be of interest to a certain audience. The acting overall is pretty dire, with James Spader and Deborah Kara Unger seemingly in a daze throughout, and Holly Hunter also being thoroughly unlikeable, but Elias Koteas proves to be the gem here as the even-more-unlikeable Vaughn, a nasty character with a constant edge of danger about him but he is never less than totally engaging whenever he is on the screen. Whether the performances are the work of Cronenberg’s direction or the actors themselves doesn’t really matter as it is the subject matter of the movie that is its biggest draw, and with the Cronenberg name riding high on a wave of positivity this year, a 4K upgrade for one of Cronenberg Senior’s less celebrated but more challenging movies is a welcome move and will hopefully pave the way for some other titles from the Cronenberg catalogue to be given the same treatment **cough** The Fly **cough**.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★