Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Scott Speedman, Welket Bungué, Don McKellar, Yorgos Pirpassopoulos, Tanaya Beatty, Nadia Litz, Lihi Kornowski, Denise Capezza
Runtime: 1 hr 48 mins
Rating: M18 (Disturbing Scenes and Nudity)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 29 September 2022
Synopsis: CRIMES OF THE FUTURE takes a deep dive into the not-so-distant future where human kind is learning to adapt to its synthetic surroundings. This evolution moves humans beyond their natural state and into a metamorphosis, altering their biological makeup. While some embrace the limitless potential of transhumanism, others attempt to control it. Either way, in this perfectly crafted Cronenberg world, “Accelerated Evolution Syndrome” is spreading fast. Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) is a beloved performance artist who has embraced Accelerated Evolution Syndrome sprouting new and unexpected organs in his body. Along with his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux), Saul has turned the removal of these organs into a spectacle for his loyal followers to marvel at in real time theatre. Soon, Saul is forced to consider what would be his most shocking performance of all.
Let this be fair warning for the uninitiated – if you’ve never seen a David Cronenberg picture, we’d advise you not to start with this latest. As tantalising as its title may sound, ‘Crimes of the Future’ is as far from casual viewing as it gets, so those looking for an easy science-fiction fix should simply look elsewhere.
Returning to the body-horror genre synonymous with his name, Cronenberg fashions a cerebral puzzler set in a decrepit, polluted techno-future where mankind has evolved into an unfeeling, pain-free species immune to both trauma and disease. Despite such leaps and bounds, evolution isn’t done yet, with Viggo Mortensen’s performance artist Saul Tenser as a case in point. Not only is he afflicted with the growth of seemingly functionless body organs, Saul is unable to perform basic human tasks like eating or sleeping without the aid of quasi-organic devices.
Saul is introduced to us alongside Caprice (Léa Seydoux), his partner professionally and in life, both of whom are celebrities in a world obsessed with surgery as if it were the new sex. Their art involves Saul lying inside a modified sarcophagus originally intended for autopsies, with Caprice using a conspicuously vaginal remote control to remove the latest growths he’s sprouted within his body. Saul’s admirers include the two bureaucrats in charge of the National Organ Registry, Wippet (Don McKellar) and Timlin (Kristen Stewart), who in the last act will reveal their own personal agendas.
Besides Wippet and Timlin, there are others lingering around Saul’s orbit. These include a father named Lang Dotrice (Scott Speedman) whose child is seen in the prologue munching contentedly on a plastic bin before his distraught mother smothers him dead with a pillow; a pair of female technicians Berst (Tanaya Beatty) and Router (Nadia Litz) who work for the company called LifeForm Ware that manufactures the contraptions which are integral to Saul’s day-to-day living; and last but not least a detective Cope (Welket Bungué) of the ‘New Vice’ division investigating Lang and his cult of evolutionists that have chosen to modify their digestive system to be able to eat plastics and other synthetic chemicals.
Intriguing though they may be, Cronenberg gives the characters short shrift in a largely moribund narrative with little sense of pace or build-up. His reputation has enabled him to assemble quite the ensemble here, but their high-concept performances cannot quite compensate for the sheer lethargy at which things unfold, which will test the patience of even the most patient viewer. In addition to frustrating those waiting for the various plot strands to come together in a meaningful way, it doesn’t help that Cronenberg uses his characters to explain his symbolism with overindulgent exposition that illuminates little.
What there is to savour is strictly for hardcore Cronen-heads, especially the tableau of horrors which Cronenberg has curated, including a dervish-dancing man with multiple ears all over his body and a woman who mutilates her own face for the delectation of her audience. Such outré images and pulsating shots of human viscera are signature Cronenberg, but they are here devoid of the sharp social commentary which elevated the best of his works, so much so that ‘Crimes of the Future’ operates purely at the visceral level to shock.
And that is a pity, for at the age of 79, Cronenberg isn’t short of ideas at all; in fact, there are glimpses here of his desire to speak to our modern-day anxieties about technology, genetics and environmental degradation. Yet these ideas remain trapped in delivery, without sufficient narrative impetus to make any impression on its viewer. Indeed, as much as we admire Cronenberg and his body of work, ‘Crimes of the Future’ is a tedious disappointment that is all the more maddening for the potential it ultimatelt squanders.
(Unless you're a hardcore Cronen-head, David Cronenberg's return to the body-horror genre is ultimately too dull, deliberate and deadening for even the most patient viewer)
Review by Gabriel Chong