"Crimes of the Future" stars Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Don McKellar, and Scott Speedman. Released on June 3, 2022, the film has a performance art duo performing grotesque acts in a climate-ravaged future.
The film was written and directed by David Cronenberg, who also directed films such as "Stereo", "The Fly", "Crash", "A History of Violence", and "Eastern Promises". Arthouse movies tend to make audiences scratch their heads in confusion or feel underwhelmed by their experimental storytelling. However, there are also specific types of artful films that'll leave them puzzled while searching for the nearest barf bag. These movies have a habit of going beyond their unsettling nature with their gross-out imagery and disturbing body horror elements and classify them as cinema. The film I'll be talking about today happens to fit in that category. This latest addition to the body horror genre has been getting a lot of attention lately, aside from its glowing reviews. It features the long-awaited return of filmmaker David Cronenberg in his first dive into sci-fi horror since 1999's "Existenz". More importantly, it caused some viewers to walk out of the theater during its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival due to its graphic scenes. So they're okay with characters getting hurt in gruesome ways in the "Saw" movies, but when another movie does it, they find it a problem? I don't get these people sometimes. Now that the film has been released to the public, it's time for me to see if it's as grotesque and artistic as the concept suggests.
The film centers on Saul Tenser (Mortensen), a performance artist in the distant future. He's diagnosed with "Accelerated Evolution Syndrome", a disease that allows him to grow new organs inside his body. Along with his partner Caprice (Seydoux), Saul uses his disease as an artistic practice to produce and remove his organs on stage before a live audience. Their growing fame catches the attention of the National Organ Registry, with investigators Timlin (Stewart) and Wippet (McKellar) overseeing Saul's success. It also captures the interest of Lang Dortrice (Speedman), a husband seeking Saul's help in performing an autopsy on his dead son Brecken (Sozos Sotiris).
I've seen plenty of movies that tend to be philosophical with their themes while making audiences cringe at some unsettling moments. Some people may call them weird or even disgusting, while others may find them confusing and underwhelming for their little brains. "Crimes of the Future" attempts to be one of those films, with Cronenberg exploring a world where watching someone perform surgery is more captivating than a Broadway musical. To no one's surprise, the film managed to be both uncomfortable and reflective, but its execution isn't enough to provide any vital significance in its artistic value.
The story examines human evolution and the government's stance against it. With the restriction of evolution and the world's condition, people are left without physical pain and disease, while others have unexplainable changes to their bodies. For the latter, a group of evolutionists attempts to go against the government by modifying their digestive system. It's an interesting study that benefits from its bleak, unsettling nature, but it can also be complicated to process after viewing it. That's how I can best explain my experience with "Crimes of the Future".
This element has always proven to be a make-or-break part of a film's success, depending on one's expectations. As long as the story and characters are engaging, the complex themes shouldn't be an issue, in my eyes. The plot certainly has its share of intriguing moments, including Saul's disease and the film's estranged world of the performance arts. However, their intrigue was the only thing carrying the movie's middling storytelling until it reached the point of mediocrity. Along with its slow pacing and average characters, the film quickly resembles a divide in people's taste by providing something that's visually pleasing yet narratively underwhelming.
One of the things in "Crimes of the Future" that I enjoyed was its cast. Viggo Mortensen delivers an authentic performance that sees his character Saul infected by a disease that affects his throat and digestive tract. Mortensen must have taken a lot of effort to act like he's constantly got a frog in his throat, but he pulled it off reasonably well. Léa Seydoux and Scott Speedman also did very well with their performances as Caprice and Lang, respectively. Additionally, Kristen Stewart is still on top of her acting game regarding her role as Timlin. It's far from her best work, but Stewart's determination to move away from her "Twilight" fame should continue to be noticed.
I was also impressed with the movie's production design. David Cronenberg has crafted a modern, dystopian-ish world that's genuine in its bleakness and discomforting in its visuals. Add that with Cronenberg's magnetic artistic style, and you got an unnervingly grounded setting filled with gross elements and elegant flair. It's a future that you would like to live in, but at the same time, you prefer not to, based on its residents.
Then there's the matter of its grotesque content. The movie offers plenty of sequences that tend to gross its audiences out, including surgery, self-mutilation, organs, and a child eating plastic. I'm serious. That child consumes the plastic trash can like it was a giant chocolate chip cookie. This was supposed to be one of the main reasons the film caused plenty of walkouts, but it seemed pretty tame from my perspective. Maybe I've seen so many movies with gross-out appeal that I've gotten used to watching people doing disgusting things? Whatever the case is, those elements didn't match the impact it intended to reach or make me lose my lunch. On the bright side, it benefited from its admirable makeup design, especially for a dancer with multiple ears sewn all over his body.
Overall, "Crimes of the Future" is admittedly grim and stylish in its world-building, themes, and imagery. Unfortunately, its narrative leaves much to be desired. The film's cast, Cronenberg's direction, and production design are the only elements that make this experience eerily compelling. However, its story and characters couldn't capitalize on them, resulting in it being a lackluster piece of performance art. It'll likely impress other people with artistic taste in film and enjoy some of Cronenberg's other works. Everyone else would either feel bored or gag at the sight of organs, self-mutilation, or both. As for me, it's another film that left me feeling conflicted but later understood why some people liked it more than I did.