Crimes of the Future review – very much an acquired taste

Famously before Paul Verhoeven took over as director of Total Recall David Cronenberg was the director who was adapting the short story by Philip K. Dick. His screenplay was the one that added the idea of the mutants and the more overt body horror. Now, after an eight year directing hiatus Cronenberg is back to remind people who the king of body horror is.

Crimes of the Future takes place – you guessed it – in the future. Pollution has made human evolution change, and performance artist Saul (Viggo Mortensen) is growing additional organs that he has his partner Caprice (Lea Seydoux) remove in front of an audience. Meanwhile Saul is acting as an informant for an underground group who believe that evolution of mankind is the only way forward.

From the get go this is Cronenberg at the height of his directing powers. This is his first full blooded science fiction horror since eXistenZ back in the late 90s, returning to his horror roots that marked his career like The Fly or The Brood. His story shows shades of his ideas from the abandoned Total Recall. The idea that mankind is evolving and now will need to consume plastic and waste is one that you can see was baked into the film of Total Recall.

The design of the world is incredible, despite being made in Greece in one warehouse, it feels like a world in flux. The industrial feel of every set is perfect for what Cronenberg is trying to say about the pollution of society as a whole. The technology is less clean and more like the Alien technology that H.R. Giger developed. It’s fleshy, and squishy in the way only Cronenberg can achieve.

Viggo Mortensen, on his fourth collaboration with Cronenberg, is perfectly at home with the constantly in pain Saul. He’s pale, soft spoken, often dressed like a character from a silent horror film. It’s an interesting parallel to Cronenberg, an artist in pain because they are denying themselves their true nature. Mortensen puts full physicality into the role and it’s mesmerising to witness.

Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen and Lea Seydoux in Crimes of the Future

Similarly both Lea Seydoux and Kristin Stewart offer great support. Neither are afraid to work on difficult or weird films, and with Cronenberg they’re unafraid to literally bare all – and there is nudity aplenty. Seydoux’s eyes are the window to her artists’ soul, while Stewart is great at playing nervy and unsure. 

It’s also a triumph of Howard Shore’s imposing score that adds to the growing sense of something building. While this is no big blockbuster, the finale of the film is great at building up the tension towards something you know might not be what it seems.

The film is however very much an acquired taste. This is Cronenberg’s least accessible film since M. Butterfly, and it’s audience will be limited, but having gone off to make crime thrillers, satires and even a historical drama it feels right that Cronenberg should make something that will polarise an audience and make them uncomfortable. It’s a welcome return, just don’t leave it so long next time, David,

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