'Crimes of the Future': Cronenberg's disturbing, cutting-edge tale of organ donors dulled by passive characters, slow pace

  • Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) takes a break from his surgical performance art as his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux), left, attends to him. A wispy bureaucrat named Timlin (Kristin Stewart), right, is in awe of him.

    Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) takes a break from his surgical performance art as his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux), left, attends to him. A wispy bureaucrat named Timlin (Kristin Stewart), right, is in awe of him. Courtesy of Neon

 
 
Updated 6/2/2022 11:32 AM

"Crimes of the Future" - ★ ★ ½

"Crimes of the Future" represents a cinematic distillation of everything we've come to expect -- and fear -- from the works of visionary horror director David Cronenberg.

 

A fascination with transforming body parts.

An obsession with obsessions.

Incursions into taboo subjects.

Examinations of all things dark, morbid and intimately horrible, starting with his first feature, "They Came From Within" (aka "Shivers"), a low-budget ick-fest involving sexually transmitted parasites in a prescient AIDS metaphor a decade before the virus struck.

Actually, "Attack of the Killer Metaphors" would make a fairly accurate subtitle for Cronenberg's new movie, his first since "Maps to the Stars" eight years ago.

In a retro-visionary future, pain and infections have become virtually extinct because of an "accelerated evolution syndrome."

Meanwhile, functionless tumors resembling entries from an H.R. Giger sketchbook pop up in people's bodies.

Saul Tenser (frequent Cronenberg collaborator Viggo Mortensen, donning a black death shroud) has turned his strangely attractive extra organs into an artistic obsession and a trendy boutique show attraction.

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Caprice (Léa Seydoux) watches over her partner Saul (Viggo Mortensen) in David Cronenberg's glimpse at humanity's future in "Crimes of the Future."
Caprice (Léa Seydoux) watches over her partner Saul (Viggo Mortensen) in David Cronenberg's glimpse at humanity's future in "Crimes of the Future." - Courtesy of Neon

Before a live, appreciative audience, Saul lies on a gurney as his partner, Caprice ("No Time to Die" star Léa Seydoux), uses a squishy, putty-like remote control to operate robotic arms that slice open his abdomen and pull pack the flesh to reveal glistening tumors ripe for harvesting. All to the accompaniment of Howard Shore's quietly cranked screaming-meemies score.

In a post-pain world where people casually cut each other as a form of social currency, Cronenberg imagines this to be the new pornography. As a character astutely remarks, "Surgery is the new sex!"

All this won't seem nearly as shocking or twisted after watching the opening sequence where a distraught mother suffocates her young son in his bed because he won't stop eating the plastic garbage pail in the bathroom.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Upsetting? Extreme? Sure.

Gratuitous? Not at all.

Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) grows tumors in his abdomen as a source of artistic achievement in David Cronenberg's visionary science-fiction drama "Crimes of the Future."
Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) grows tumors in his abdomen as a source of artistic achievement in David Cronenberg's visionary science-fiction drama "Crimes of the Future." - Courtesy of Neon

"Crimes of the Future" offers something resembling a plot, one involving a bureaucratic entity called the National Organ Registry, directed by an amiable oddball named Wippet (Don McKellar) and his even odder-ball assistant Timlin (Kristen Stewart, putting her mastery of breathy, dramatic snorting on comic overdrive).

A distinct "Brazil" vibe comes with this part of the movie, which purports to discuss the intersections between art, commerce and politics, although Cronenberg's screenplay comes up a bit short on the political end of the narrative spectrum.

As he did in "The Fly" and "Videodrome," Cronenberg shrewdly capitalizes on our fears of technology and transmogrification, recurring themes in classic science fiction.

Even as Cronenberg pushes our concept of sexual kinkiness to the max (as he did in "Crash" using car collisions as sexual ignition switches), "Crimes of the Future" manufactures passive characters who lumber into taboo territory when we need them to charge.

It settles for being politely gross when the subject matter demands to freak us out.

Instead of scenes filling us with uncomfortable anticipation, they drag with dull deliberation.

"Crimes of the Future" sparks with originality and the horror of daring ideas. But the execution, like an electric chair on the fritz, diminishes the shock.

• • •

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Scott Speedman, Don McKellar

Directed by: David Cronenberg

Other: A Neon release in theaters. Rated R for language, graphic nudity, grisly images, violence. 107 minutes

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