Directed by David Cronenberg
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Don McKellar, Scott Speedman, Welket Bungué
Eight years removed from his last feature, the satirical drama Maps to the Stars (2014), David Cronenberg has returned to his Sci-Fi Body Horror roots – a genre he arguably defined. Not to be confused with his own 1970 silent film of the same name, Crimes of the Future (2022) interestingly, has no relation, concept or storywise, with the earlier film, though both are body horrors in their own right. This is Cronenberg’s 4th collaboration with Viggo Mortensen.
Set in a not-so-distant future in an unnamed city and country, humans, whether through pharmaceutical, or surgical means have lost the ability to feel physical pain. Perhaps through pandemics, nuclear war, or toxic exposure this new norm of a modified and painless body has prompted some people to seek that which they can no longer feel: pain.
World-renowned performance artist Saul Tenser (Mortensen) has a medical condition where his body creates new organs one after the other. In order to satisfy this morbid fetish for physical pain, he “performs” surgery on his own body with the help of his partner Caprice (Seydoux) to cut these organs out in front of a live audience; the event is deemed as performance art.
On the other hand, there is a growing political movement of people who want to show the world that their bodies are evolving and contain special organs that are able to digest synthetics (plastics and toxic materials). Naturally, the government opposes this, and Saul, because of his notoriety, is approached by both factions to advance their respective agendas…
Packed with David Cronenberg’s signature elements, Crimes of the Future displays an elegance that set it apart from other body horror tropes. Cronenberg’s simplicity of language and dialogue mesh well with Douglas Koch’s minimal cinematography. Shot in Athens, Greece, the sets exhibit that cringey Gigeresque design that had been set forth with the insects in Naked Lunch and the props from Existenz, along with some weirdly grotesque makeup effects as expected. But everything is tidy and well-thought-out – bookended by longtime collaborator Howard Shore’s effective score.
Mortensen is fine as Saul, in a fairly understated performance. Seydoux wears the character of Caprice as a badge of honor and is perfect. Also notable is Kristen Stewart as the slightly odd Timlin, now fast becoming a respected character actor in her own right; the Jennifer Jason-Leigh of this generation. But as we see the prowess of his actors, it is obvious they are speaking through Cronenberg’s vision. The story is front and center.
What makes the premise compelling is its proximity to what could be a reality: human beings evolving, just not in the way we expect – a bit lonelier and fantastically fetishistic. The horror is in how we’ve become so hollow that we seek out pain and that old sex is passé. It’s a brave new world as Stewart’s Timlin states, “Surgery is the new sex.”
While Crimes of the Future is one of Cronenberg’s most balanced films, it’s definitely an acquired taste. But one can’t deny the tenacity and sharp focus of this one-of-a-kind director. As with Kubrick, Lynch, and Greenaway, David Cronenberg is an original. With eight years between his last work, he remains as potent as ever.
Review by Vince Caro