Crimes of the Future
★★☆☆☆
David Cronenberg returns to the body horror genre he essentially created in the '70s and '80s with this sci-fi tale set in an unspecified future in which most humans have evolved past the ability to feel pain or suffer from infections. In this imagined future, surgery has become the new sex and public mutilation is the highest form of art. Viggo Mortensen, in his fourth collaboration with the director, plays performance artist Saul Tenser. Saul suffers from (or is blessed with) a condition that causes his body to grow new organs. His partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux), a former trauma surgeon, removes these seemingly purposeless additions to Saul's internal anatomy in front of live audiences who get an erotic and aesthetic charge from their shows. If this sounds like the premise of the ultimate Cronenberg picture, that's almost correct, except that the movie is so unaffecting and forgettable. 

Crimes of the Future rehashes many of this filmmaker's signature obsessions and recycles many concepts from his earlier movies. There are echoes of Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977), The Brood (1979), Videodrome (1983) The Fly (1986), Dead Ringers (1988), and eXistenZ (1999) but without any of those films' ability to disturb or assault a viewer's sensibilities. Body Horror is a delicate genre in which the line between deeply unsettling and just plain silly is paper thin. The Cronenberg film this reminded me most of is Crash (1996), his adaptation of J. G. Ballard's novel about a film producer who survives a car crash and becomes entangled with a group of sexual deviants who fetishize car crashes. Like Crash, Crimes of the Future is more conceptually intriguing than narratively compelling. These are both movies that attempt to trigger visceral reactions in the viewer but are so intellectually confined that this viewer, anyway, is left unmoved.

But unlike Crash, which takes itself seriously to the point of pretension, Crimes of the Future has a sense of humor about itself. I'd call it a light dark-comedy, in that it's a social satire that feels insubstantial because what it's sending up has already devolved into self-parody. The grandiloquence and absurdity of the Art World have been nearly impossible to lampoon since sometime around the turn of the millennium. From 
Terry Zwigoff’s Art School Confidential (2006) to Dan Gilroy’s Velvet Buzzsaw (2019) cinematic attempts to skew the world of highfalutin creators, critics, dealers, and collectors have fallen pretty flat. Far more successful have been the films that explore this world without exaggerating anything, like Ruben Östlund’s The Square (2017) and Nathaniel Kahn’s The Price of Everything (2018). It is difficult to comment on something that has already crossed all lines and looked back on itself as much as contemporary art movements have, and the brave new world of NFTs renders anything Cronenberg can think of far too ordinary to feel extreme.

In addition to being cerebrally ineffectual, the humour in Crimes of the Future undercuts the squeamish delights it means to inflict on us. The hardware and technology on display here are intentionally silly looking. There's nothing inherently scary about the machines in this movie, the way the telepods in The Fly were disturbing just to look at—especially the dusty old prototype in the corner of the apartment. The tools used to cut into the human body in Crimes of the Future fail to tap into our natural, deep-seated discomfort with surgical instruments the way the implements in Dead Ringers do. And the scenes of actually cutting into human flesh and removing foreign objects from a body lack the gritty authenticity of Shivers. The mechanized autopsy table Saul and Caprice use in their performances looks like an analogue version of the automated surgery table in Ridley Scott's Prometheus (2012) or any number of other sci-fi surgical tables in which little CGI arms equipped with scalpels, lasers, and flesh spreaders dance ominously over exposed skin as they zero in. This is the kind of conceptual special effect that can only creep you out the first time you see it. After that, it just looks idiotic. (I mean, does anyone wake up in the middle of the night unable to shake the image of little robotic arms wielding knives above their flesh?)

It's hard for me to understand reports about people fleeing the cinema when this film premiered at Cannes, as the depictions of sharp implements cutting into flesh are about as disturbing as a shot of a hand drawing on an abdomen with a red sharpy. And the internal organs on display look like anatomy toys from a science museum gift shop. It's not that the now-primitive make-up effects in movies like Videodrome or The Brood looked more realistic
—even in their day, they lacked verisimilitude. However, those images were deeply unsettling and they haunted your soul. Watching with today's eyes, scenes from those decades-old movies still get under your skin in a way Crimes of the Future seems to hold itself above (or just can't be bothered to try for).

Twitter Capsule:
Like his '96 film Crash, Cronenberg's latest is more conceptually intriguing than narratively compelling. This time out, his sense of humor is front and center, but social satire is difficult when what you're sending up has already devolved into self-parody.

Directed by David Cronenberg
Produced by Robert Lantos and Steve Solomos

Written by David Cronenberg

With: Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Scott Speedman, Tanaya Beatty, Lihi Kornowski, Denise Capezza, Don McKellar, Nadia Litz, Yorgos Pirpassopoulos, Welket Bungué, Ephie Kantza, Jason Bitter, and Sozos Sotiris

Cinematography: Douglas Koch
Editing: Christopher Donaldson
Music: Howard Shore

Runtime: 107 min
Release Date: 02 June 2022
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color