It’s time to pass the body horror baton to Brandon because David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future (2022) is a colossal mess.
The art of performance has been recently the source of inspiration for a bunch of genre filmmakers. Dan Gilroy mocked the entire galore of critics, artists, and everyone orbiting around these two groups in Velvet Buzzsaw (2019), in a rather disappointing mashup of brilliant ideas without a gluing agent. Perhaps a better route was the one taken by Ruben Östlund’s snappish The Square (2017), a Palme d’Or winner that’s nothing short of blissful. Finally, the latest entry in this uber-specific subgenre is Peter Strickland’s atrocious Flux Gourmet (2022), which is also very close kin to David Cronenberg’s latest movie.
The inspiration drawn from the world of absurd performance installations takes an extreme form in Crimes of the Future (2022). Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) is a mystical performance artist who specializes in the esoteric field of organ growing. He’s quite a revelation in the art circles – in a world where human bodies seem to be adapting to the artificial environment, Saul Tenser’s acts of harvesting these carnal crops begin to attract attention. Among the thrill-seeking audiences who amass brutalist interiors to watch Caprice (Lèa Seydoux) as she performs the surgical acts, some individuals have other interests concerning Mr. Tenser.
One of them is Lang Dotrice (Scott Speedman), a furtive dude whose main thing is eating purple bars and nagging Tenser to use his deceased son’s body in one of the performances. In the opening scene of Crimes of the Future (2022), Lang’s wife asphyxiates the boy whom we peek at while he’s tucking in a plastic bucket. Naturally, there’s a catch to his modest request to honor the death of the kid. Was it a morphed form of a human of the future? A threat to the old regime of people who cannot live off synthetics? That seems to be the case, and it’s a concept worth following, yet Cronenberg prefers not to probe into this thought-provoking area too deep.
Instead, the Canadian director only multiplies characters and each one gets a thread to follow too. There’s enough space to pull our attention away from the plastic-eaters and watch pointless – if visually endearing – bits of performance. These bizarre events are where Cronenberg indulges himself in his beloved body horror, but they’re not half as sharp as the surgical lasers and tools used in the avant-garde performances. Truth be told, many viewers may fall for the skilfully executed campaign that heralded Crimes of the Future (2022) as the most disgusting film of the year – a fact cemented by the alleged walk-outs during the film’s premiere. But that couldn’t stray further away from the truth. Knowing what David Cronenberg’s flicks had to offer in the past – Videodrome (1983) and The Fly (1986) – Crimes of the Future (2022) has no of their guts-twisting madness.
Despite the director’s best efforts, the world-building part of Crimes of the Future (2022) feels contrived and fair to middling; too hectic, and uninspiring to make its grim sets do the heavy-lifting. It’s hard to believe in Alien-like designs of the future, or the dreary costumes that range from Viggo Mortensen’s COVID-19-themed hipster style to Kristen Stewart’s sleazy look and pretentious lines she mutters with the one-fit-for-all grimace.
Even if the world in Crimes of the Future (2022) matched Cronenberg’s ambition, it’s the script that does the ultimate carnage. None of the heed-my-warning messages clicks – neither the metaphor of a synthetic world that forces our bodies to transform and adjust nor the revolution that will eventually see plastic-eaters clash with regular humans. Cronenberg’s too soft to produce truly horrifying images and too scattered to write a story that has focus and progressively moves toward anything meaningful. There are more than decent ideas in this movie, and I could see it becoming a horror tech noir piece if there was more grip over its detective themes. The performance art underground is also a fancy setting, however, rather thin.
Performances also pull the ship further into the abyss, particularly the actors who are left to exist like zombie extras on The Walking Dead, for such is the depth of their character development. Scott Speedman’s maddeningly wooden role can only be matched by the unparalleled blandness of Welket Bungué’s performance, who plays a police officer recruiting Tenser as his informant. The starry array of wasted talents gets bigger – Kristen Stewart’s fall-from-grace after Spencer (2021) is a particularly tough landing. The only sane man here is Viggo Mortensen. Saul Tenser isn’t as regretfully bland or ill-inspired as the rest of the bunch, and his chemistry with Lèa Seydoux deserved more than an odd scene that “reimagines” the art of fellatio.
Perhaps the pinnacle of cringeworthiness of Crimes of the Future (2022) is Kristen Stewart whispering to Viggo Mortensen that surgery is the new sex. Or maybe it is Scott Speedman’s laughter that’s hauntingly similar to Tommy Wiseau’s unforgettable turn in The Room (2003). It could also be the many other terrible lines that screamed for at least three more drafts before making it onto the screen. Whichever takes the main prize, one is certain – Crimes of the Future (2022) belongs among the most disappointing films of this year.