Crimes of the Future (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): Cronenberg still has it…

David Cronenberg’s latest film “Crimes of the Future” is akin to a compilation album filled with his old hits. As usual, human bodies function as carnal theaters of horror to be sliced and then explored to the extreme degrees, and the movie certainly shocks and disturbs us a lot under Cronenberg’s cool and cerebral approach to its sensational story and characters, while also evoking numerous elements from his many other horror thriller films ranging from “The Brood” (1979) to “eXistenZ” (1999).

At first, it takes some time for us to get accustomed a bit to the strange dystopian background of the movie, where both humanity and medical technology are so weirdly and grotesquely advanced to our discomfort and fascination. While many people in this world are virtually impervious to physical pain and infection in addition to often randomly developing new organs inside or outside their bodies due to “Accelerated Evolution Syndrome”, advanced surgery technology becomes quite common and casual, so one can easily perform a surgery on oneself via widely available surgery equipments.

As one of the most extreme cases of Accelerated Evolution Syndrome, Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) has frequently done his own “performance art” along with his partner Capris (Léa Seydoux). Whenever new organs start to develop inside his body, they prepare themselves for their latest personal operating theatre, and many people willingly come to observe and record their “performance” as Capris has Tenser’s body get eviscerated here and there before eventually arriving at their finishing touch.

And then there come two unexpected changes into Tenser and Caprice’s barren daily life, which is as detached as the kinky private sex life of that bored married couple played by James Spader and Deborah Kara Unger in “Crash” (1996). They are approached by two different bureaucrats handling the registration of newly developed human organs, and one of them, a young woman named Timlin (Kristen Stewart), seems to be more interested in Tenser and Caprice’s artistic process than registering whatever Tenser is developing inside his body at present. Watching a long conversation scene between these two bureaucrats and Tenser and Caprice, you may scratch your head a bit for not fully understanding what the hell they are actually talking about, but Cronenberg and his performers keep us engaged as deftly conveying to us the main characters’ flat and detached attitude to their freakish matters of flesh and blood, and this will certainly take you back to how clinically intellectual many of Cronenberg’s physical horror films are despite lots of gory sights including that disturbingly fascinating genetic fusion of fly and human in “The Fly” (1986).

Meanwhile, Tenser is also approached by a detective who wants him to work as a sort of undercover agent. There is a group of subversive people quite willing to push their own accelerated evolution process all the way for some unspecified cause, and we later come to learn that their newly developed organs can actually digest plastic matters. I really do not know whether there is really any kind of evolutionary advantage on that, though I am sure that, as indirectly reflected by the unnerving prologue scene of the film, they are bound to be the ultimate garbage men for all mankind.

As expected, Tenser is soon approached by the leader of this subversive group, and we get to know more about what this subversive group has been planning in secret. Via Tenser performing his latest surgery show on a certain dead body, they are about to make a sort of reactionary public statement somewhere between “Videodrome” (1983) and “eXistenZ”. Although he is not so eager about this, Tenser lets himself get associated with this subversive group as requested by that cop, and he also gets himself involved with some shady doctor who asks him to participate in a sort of “inner beauty contest”, which may remind you of a certain memorable line from one of the twin characters played by Jeremy Irons in “Dead Ringers” (1988).

The movie is often a little too murky and confusing for us, but we can also sense that Cronenberg is having a little naughty fun with his old territory of flesh and blood after delving into the realm of mind during last two decades as reflected by “A History of Violence” (2005), “Eastern Promises” (2007), and “A Dangerous Method” (2011), which incidentally has Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung at the center of its story. I guess he simply demonstrates here that he has not lost any of his old artistic skills and touches, and that is probably more than enough for you if you have admired his distinctive artistic style and talent like I have since I watched “The Fly” for the first time when I was young and wild.

Three main cast members of the film ably dial down themselves for immersing themselves into the dryly drab environment inhabited by their respective characters. While Viggo Mortensen, who already worked with Cronenberg in his three previous films, dutifully holds the middle spot as required, Léa Seydoux and Kristen Stewart skillfully complement their co-star in one way or another, and Stewart, who has been one of the most compelling actresses working in Hollywood as distancing herself further from those disposable vampire romance flicks in her early career years, is particularly fun to watch when her character flatly gushes out her enthusiasm toward Tenser and Caprice’s artistic activity.

Although it is not exactly one of the better works from Cronenberg, “Crimes of the Future” is an interesting piece of work which will engage you enough if you are well aware of what you can expect from Cronenberg. I cannot say I was entertained during my viewing, but it is still worthwhile to check out for its indelible mood and style, and you will surely be reminded again of why Cronenberg is still one of best masters of horror in our time.

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