Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future finds beauty in the grotesque

Crimes of the Future finds beauty in he grotesque.
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David Cronenberg returns with his first film in eight years, a semi-return to his body-horror roots. Spencer Gilder-Smith reviews.

FILM REVIEW
Crimes of the Future
• Melbourne International Film Festival

• Director: David Cronenberg
• Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart
• Run time: 1h 47 minutes
• When: On general release from August 25
• Rating: 3.5/5


Crimes of the Future opens on a shot of a seemingly normal young boy sitting by the beach. His mother tells him not to eat anything he finds.

Minutes later, the boy is murdered by his mother after he is caught eating a plastic waste basket.

Welcome to David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future. 

When it was first rumoured that the master of body-horror would be returning to the genre that he has conquered for the first time since 1999’s eXistenZ, anticipation was understandably high.

During early screenings at Cannes Film Festival in May, several reported walk-outs took place. While for many films this may be cause for concern, such reports only increased excitement for Crimes of the Future, as Cronenberg fans hoped for a true gross-out body-horror from the genre’s master.

But, despite those factors, the film is less a body horror than an ode to the brilliance and beauty of the human body.

Cronenberg’s 22nd film takes place in a near-future dystopia, where human evolution has progressed to match the evolution of technology, outliving the limits of the environment. Inhabitants have evolved to varying extents, and have lost the sensation of pain, can survive on a diet of plastic and, in Viggo Mortensen’s character Saul Tensor’s case, can grow additional organs.

Lea Seydoux
Léa Seydoux, Viggo Mortensen and Kristen Stewart in the film.

As Tensor uses his evolution as performance art with his partner, Caprice (Léa Seydoux), he becomes a valuable figure for government and activist groups looking to push their agendas.

Mortensen is brilliant, embodying the protagonist’s discomfort in his ever-changing body, uncertainty about his place in the film’s setting and alien-like mannerisms. Likewise, Seydoux is a steadying force throughout, carrying Crimes of the Future’s themes of modern art, self-expression, and humanity through her restrained performance.

The film’s supporting cast however, leaves something to be desired. Kristen Stewart falls into the traps she is often accused of. Lines as investigator Timlin are delivered monotonously, and her growing infatuation with Tensor is as immature as her Bella Swan in Twilight. The bizarre performance sometimes feels saved by the strange environment that it takes place in, but it is frequently a distraction from the film’s otherwise immersive world.

Timlin’s colleague, Scott Speedman’s Lang, is similarly strange and never has any meaningful impact on the film. The two investigators are the most underdeveloped characters in a film that contains a number of half-baked elements.

Crimes of the Future has great production values, particularly considering its modest budget, estimated at $US35million. The costuming, make-up, sets, and Howard Shore’s hauntingly beautiful score work overtime in bringing the unique world to life. The high-level make-up and prosthetics help to visualise the evolution of characters and the human species. This is vital in a film where so many characters have unique physical attributes, such as additional limbs and extensive scarring. A highlight of these sees a character with numerous ears steal the scene at one of the the film’s art shows, as he perfectly encapsulates the world’s hybridisation of beauty and strangeness.

Such displays of unorthodox beauty may surprise viewers hoping for a gross-out, squirm-in-your-seat horror film.

Crimes of the Future is more concerned with highlighting the beauty in the grotesque.

The only fault in the film’s production is the sometimes-sloppy CGI used in several of the operation scenes. These cartoonish visual effects feel out of place in a film filled with distinct practical effects.

Crimes of the Future’s main strength of world-building comes as an extension of its immersive design. The rich dystopia feels layered and complex in its political and social dynamics, but never complicated – rivalling those seen in big-budget productions such as Dune (2021) and the Lord of the Rings series. The world is so intriguing that it feels under-used by the film’s relatively brief 107-minute runtime. Multiple subplots are not entirely fleshed out and come to rushed and unsatisfying conclusions. Crimes of the Future’s world is one that could be spent in for longer, across a heartier runtime or even a television mini-series.

Despite its imperfections, Crimes of the Future is an enchanting and unique film, making it a strong addition to David Cronenberg’s storied filmography.