“Crimes of the Future” marks David Cronenberg’s latest body-horror movie and his first feature since 2014’s underwhelming “Maps to the Stars.”
The new project also signals Cronenberg’s gold standard on screen, boldly surpassing his inventive “eXistenZ” and seeing-double drama “Dead Ringers.” An exceptional accomplishment for a 79-year-old auteur.
Set in a ravaged future – the city is unspecified, but it was shot in Greece — noirish “Crimes of the Future” begins with a boy punished in an unspeakable way for eating a plastic trash can. The kid’s appetite will be explained later by his forlorn father (a never-better Scott Speedman).
We then shift to the home of famous performance artists Saul and Caprice (Viggo Mortensen and Lea Seydoux). Their public spectacles involve his growth of new, mutant organs that his partner – a cosmetic surgeon – diligently removes.
Off they go to the cheerless National Organ Registry, where an intellectual overseer (Don McKellar) and mousy investigator Kristen Stewart await. Soon thereafter, the bureaucrats have a compelling conversation with a detective (Welket Bungue), who describes Saul the patient as a “glorified organ donor.”
Also in the mix: A pair of femme fatales and ostensible lovers (Tanaya Beatty and Nadia Litz) with their own agenda.
Meanwhile, a clandestine group whose members’ digestive tracts enable them to eat plastic products and synthetic “candy” bars are hell-bent on pushing human evolution.
As the centerpiece, Mortensen often takes the cloak-and-dagger approach – with a medieval, Grim Reaper-style hooded robe. The man’s raspy, whispery vocals add to the creepiness.
Cronenberg has created an insular and singularly unique world with a compelling storyline, and has laid it out in a cohesive, coherent and insightful manner. Morbid curiosity is the order of the day.
For most intents and purposes, “Crimes of the Future” is a dystopian cautionary tale wherein surgery becomes sexual. There won’t, in fact, be a shortage of nudity – some scenes more gratuitous than necessary.
Regardless of Cronenberg’s views of technology, politics and society at large, make no mistake: His main aim is to stir up a sense of dread, sometimes to the point of revulsion.
To that end, the filmmaker is indebted to cinematographer Douglas Koch and production designer Carol Spier, who conjure up sets and frames of eerie decay. Any spectators feeling squeamish may blame the hero’s public-eye medical procedures and/or a child’s autopsy conducted before the cameras.
Once again, Cronenberg – not unlike Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood – has brought out the best in his actors. The crew is wholly focused and genuine; we never think the participants aren’t believing in what they’re doing.
A quarter-century ago, Cronenberg’s controversial “Crash” fixated on psychosexual energy and went off the rails, taking that film’s shallow narrative with it.
Not this time. “Crimes of the Future” shifts into high gear and cruises to the finish line – in an economical 107 minutes – with unexpected ease.