Crimes of the Future is toned down for a Cronenberg movie, but with all the oddities and quirks you might expect, but don’t worry, this review won’t spoil the experience. It tackles a lot of the same ideas and themes he has before. It’s a archetypal Cronenburg movie with a lot of thoughts and the directing and acting talent to be great. However it could be a struggle for those less invested in the filmaker.
The film stars Viggo Mortenson, Lea Seydoux and Kristen Stewart, who all deliver great performances, but the story is a touch lacking and the body horror you might expect is more generic than you may hope for given the director.
Crimes of the Future is in Cinemas and available on Amazon Prime. Cronenberg even encourages home viewing in his interview with collider.
Story – Future Crimes and Questions
Crimes of the Future is set in an unspecified future Athens, with strange bio machines that help aid bodily functions, and the development of ‘Accelerated Evolution Syndrome’. People are spontaneously growing new organs, pain and infection are no longer experienced by most humans, and society is adapting, with “surgery being the new sex.”
We follow two main plot threads. The primary thread follows performance artists Saul Tenser and Caprice (Viggo Mortenson and Lea Seydoux), who remove Saul’s new organs in front of a live audience. The other follows Lang, a member of a group dedicated to humans evolving to match the world they live in. To do this they develop organs that enable them to consume plastic.
There is more going on here, including a fantastic cold open. However, for this review, I won’t get into spoiler territory for Crimes of the Future. Cronenberg delves into several ideas and themes in this movie. From what it means to be human, the nature of art, the reclamation of suffering, and even how we experience sex and intimacy.
The movie has the potential to be a fascinating exploration of these concepts. The trouble is the movie never fully develops them. The idea of people evolving so much that they are no longer human is a great idea, but the film doesn’t really explore this idea, beyond it’s weird to eat plastic.
It’s worth noting that the movie is light on the usual Cronenberg body horror. There are moments that will make you queasy, but not as much as you might hope. That being said, the practical effects are fantastic.
All in all, the story is the weakest part of the movie. It’s definitely not bad, but it doesn’t reach its full potential.
Characters and Performances – Riddled with Star Power
A strong part of the film is the performances and characters. All the actors perform extremely well, especially when it comes to showing anxiety and distress. Viggo Mortensen is quite understated as Saul Tenser, with a calm demeanour and a clear love for art. Lea Seydoux, his assistant and surgeon Caprice, also embodies the role very well. The contrast between the two is well executed as well, with Saul being concerned by his bodies internal revolt, while Caprice is fascinated by it and wants to see if develop further. Despite their differing stances on the issue of accelerated evolution, their bond through performance art holds them together.
The standout role for this review is Kirsten Stewart as Timlin in Crimes of the Future. If Cronenberg is the quintessential existential body horror guy, then Kirsten Stewart is the quintessential awkward and nervous character. She plays a bureaucrat at the national organ registry with a barely hidden fascination for art and the internal body. Her mannerism and physical performance is great, and perhaps even underused. There’s an interesting statement that could be made about her inhuman behaviour compared to the inhumanity imposed on the plastic eaters. Don McKellar, another worker at the National organ registry, also delivers an effectively repressed performance. Some more stand out scenes came from Scott Speedman. He had some great moments and again could have been used more. He portrays the head of the plastic eater movement and is compelling in his attempt to promote further evolution.
Cinematography and Sound – Beautifully Hideous
The movie is beautifully shot. The use of a decaying Athens is great, with peeling wallpaper, growing mould and grime everywhere. The set design really establishes the world, without having to spend too much time giving exposition. The use of colour as well is understated and muted, with yellow lighting and shadows being used to great effect. For a movie that is muted in colour, it succeeds in being visually interesting.
The sound is phenomenal. Howard Shore did the music and delivers a great soundtrack once more. The use of strings stands out especially, and the music is used well in supplementing scenes without distracting from the drama unfolding on screen. The sound design is also well mixed. The sounds of surgery are brilliant and without spoiling anything, there is one scene with crunches that made me feel very uncomfortable.
There is one problem with the sound however, and that is the dialogue volume. A number of scenes can be hard to keep track off, as a lot of the dialogue is almost forced out in whispers (deliberately it’s important to note). This isn’t bad per se, as it makes sense for the characters speaking in this soft manner. However, it can be frustrating when you can’t understand what is being said. Make sure to watch with subtitles to make sure you catch everything.
Editing and Pacing – A Slow but Intriguing Surgery
This is a hard one to comment on for review purposes, as how much you enjoy Crimes of the Future will depend on your taste for a slow burn. The movie only clocks in at 107 minutes and goes by quite quickly despite it’s methodical pace. Scenes are given time to develop with not too much jumping around. The story does move slowly however, so I could understand why some viewers may find it somewhat boring. The movie is peppered with performance art pieces themed around surgery and mutilation that keeps the pace moving in between longer dialogue sections