Our new film critic Vera Wang is taking on the latest and most buzzed-about movie titles to hit the big and small screens. Check out her take on Crimes of the Future.
From veteran body horror and semi-exploitation director David Cronenberg comes his new film Crimes of the Future, set in a future where human evolution has made redundant the ability to experience physical pain, as well as catalyse the inception of natural, physiological mutations, like the ability to consume and digest synthetics. It stars Viggo Mortensen in the role of Saul Tenser, a performance artist who exhibits his body's ability to grow novel organs by removing them live as part of his show. As a result of this ability, however, he experiences great pain when breathing and digesting food, which he uses a special bed and eating chair to mitigate.
As with Scott Derrickson's direction of the recent The Black Phone, Cronenberg fails to strike a balance between horror and story, but this time to a greater extent. Here, the body horror is completely unsubstantiated by the narrative, which is so sterile that it fails to kick into an interesting gear until twenty minutes to credits. Despite the imaginative concept, the premise of the film follows four plotlines equally flat in execution - first, the murder and public autopsy of Brecken, a plastic-eating boy, second, Saul acting as a mole for the police, third, his assistant Caprice's (Léa Seydoux) increasing desire to be featured in their invasive performances, and lastly, Organ Registrar officers Timlin (Kristen Stewart) and Wippet's (Don McKellar) fixation on Saul's organ growths. You'd think I'd be talking about how busy the narrative would get with all these angles, but surprisingly, it's the opposite. Every idea is so barren in exploration that the entire movie feels like the first of eight episodes in a limited series- the one where all the main characters, factions, tensions, relationships and general worldbuilding is established, but it's too early for any of it to be developed and reach a solid conclusion. Everything's happening, but nothing's interesting.
The real crime is that the first (and only) self-sufficient plotline gets introduced after eighty minutes- how Brecken is the first child to born with a natural, plastic processing digestive system, and how his father and synthetic diet crew want to use Brecken's autopsy to make a statement about human evolution, where they say consuming plastics is the only way for "human evolution to sync up with human technology" by "feeding on our own industrial waste." I can't help but wonder how much better the film would have been if it just began by introducing this story right off the bat; instead of Saul being the main character, why not Brecken's father, Lang? We could spend our time with him, as he jumps from group to group trying to pitch his idea of a public autopsy to different performance artists, finally reaching Saul, though initially skeptical, is eager to use the novelty of the idea to boost his popularity and eventually open up to the idea of a plastic-based diet.
In terms of acting, Kristen Stewart excels once more in playing Kristen Stewart, with her awkward acting and clumsy, stuttered delivery, and Léa Seydoux administers an average performance of a (supposedly) overeager artist, though underutilisation of the star-studded main cast seems to be the name of the game. Viggo Mortenson is… fine, I suppose, because there's not really much to gain from following his character because his character isn't really given much to work with, other than spouting empty, unearned platitudes and directionless one-liners. Which really sums up the movie perfectly- unearned and directionless; there's nothing to learn from being immersed in this world, which is such a shame because a "painless" future really is such a compelling concept- if not physical, what about emotional pain? If surgery is the new sex, why are there so few scenes with surgery and sex? Most of the runtime is spent with characters standing or squatting around, talking to each other about the meaning and direction of human evolution or the body as an art form, without actually exploring the myriad of possible narratives that these concepts suggest. It's a perfect example of style over substance, where the lack of purpose of each scene- and the entire film in general- makes it confusing and pointless to watch, because there's nothing to gain from doing so. The ending was unearned, abrupt, and thoroughly unsatisfying.
Take away the shock value and sleek cinematography, and you have a dreary storyline that takes too long to get going, and when it does, we're not even sure if it's moving along or running on the spot. I'm sure the concept art was absolutely amazing, but it's not enough to merit an entire film. By the end, nothing comes to fruition, and it's all a waste of time, money and resources because Cronenberg completely missed the opportunity to make something substantive, insightful and engaging of such a great concept.
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