Crimes of the Future, 2022.
Written and Directed by David Cronenberg.
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Don McKellar, Welket Bungué, Scott Speedman, Tanaya Beatty, Denise Capezza, Lihi Kornowski, Nadia Litz, Yorgos Pirpassopoulos, Yorgos Karamihos, Jason Bitter, and Ephie Kantza.
Humans adapt to a synthetic environment, with new transformations and mutations. With his partner Caprice, Saul Tenser, celebrity performance artist, publicly showcases the metamorphosis of his organs in avant-garde performances.
Legendary body horror provocateur writer/director David Cronenberg finds himself exploring familiar past themes in Crimes of the Future. In this supposedly not too distant future, surgery has become modern sex, human beings no longer feel pain, children digest plastic (and seemingly enjoy chomping down on it like digging into a bag of Ruffles), and the world has undergone a vague societal collapse. Our window into this perplexingly mad new world is through Saul Tenser and his lover/assistant Caprice (Viggo Mortensen and Léa Seydoux, respectively), an underground performance art duo that open up Saul’s body through various remote-controlled incisions and cuts, removing brand-new kinds of organs that his body has started growing.
It’s also orgasmic for both of them. This new means of expressing bodily affection has also been around long enough for Saul to stop another character and admit to not being adequate at the classic version of sex. It’s also one of many lines that shows David Cronenberg is willing to embrace dark humor, whether it be another creative choice or acknowledging he is treading covered ground. For all the potential of festival and screening walkouts, Crimes of the Future shockingly feels engineered as something much more playful despite its immediate bonkersness and initial makings of an upsetting plot. Even the opening five minutes, which feature an unforgivable act, are easier to swallow because the critical question is, “did that happen just because a child enjoys eating plastic?”
Before Crimes of the Future comes full circle to that plot point, David Cronenberg opts for world-building and central character work. However, the former feels lost in this nutty reality of human evolution and surgical sexual deviance. It’s disappointing that the specifics never get that deviant, either. There is a large stretch where David Cronenberg introduces new ideas for these characters and their motives to play off but at the expense of something genuinely engaging beyond the undeniably impressive makeup effects, production design, and finely calibrated acting. If Saul and Caprice are artists searching for meaning for their organ shows, Crimes of the Future is also hunting for a more profound purpose. Pain becoming a foreign concept should pave the way for many terrific and gruesome ideas, but outside of a glimpse of homeless junkies cutting themselves at night hoping to feel something, even that feels underdeveloped.
Indeed, Crimes of the Future is a passive experience that’s more admired than enjoyed. Synthetic contraptions for sleeping and sitting carry several functions, such as jerking around the body, so the physiology for something like swallowing food is always perfect. Some of the new organs are prone to becoming cancerous. A pair of workers from the National Organ Registry (Don McKellar and Kristen Stewart) track Saul (who frequently covers themselves from head to toe when out and about, as if he is Dracula while grunting through most dialogue). Scott Speedman also plays the father of the plastic-eating child, which also gets mixed into the skeleton of a mystery here.
The good news is that this does grow into and climax with something controversial, a beguiling sequence of disassembly, for lack of a better term. However, the characters feel more flesh than fleshed out, with certain reveals and moments lacking in that same hypnotizing feeling. With a bit more context to this world or even more propulsive energy to some of the weirdest scenes and dynamics, this might feel less disjointed and more kinetic.
Still, when Saul is being opened up or allowing Caprice to make out with his wounds, or when a child faces dire consequences for being a weirdo-eating plastic, Crimes of the Future is devilishly realized with entrancing practical effects and gnarly makeup. But the story is difficult to digest. It is more an amalgamation of all things David Cronenberg than something genuinely compelling with something new to say, even after thinking about it. If there are alien-reminiscent beds and chairs to help one sleep and eat better, Crimes of the Future needs something similar for easier consumption. Even if it doesn’t amount to much, it’s still weird and worthwhile and unmistakably David Cronenberg.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com