The latest film from cinematic legend David Cronenberg, Crimes of the Future, is far more Crash than it is The Fly or Scanners. It’s a slow and somewhat ponderous affair, with something approaching an overarching plot only finally meandering onto the set about 40 minutes into the film. It also treads a fine line between being disturbing and just plain silly. But what is it actually about? What are these crimes that happen in the future? Is this film prescient or just plain pretentious?
Well it all relates to human evolution, uncontrolled evolution specifically, and a government that’s concerned that the definition of ‘human’ is starting to get blurred. Set in a future time where humans have lost the ability to feel pain, and concerns about infection are long gone, we follow the story of Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), a performance artists whose body spontaneously generates new and unique organs. These organs are removed on stage by his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux) through the use of a biomechanical autopsy machine known as a Sark unit.
Saul has been recruited, for reasons that are never really explained, to go undercover and infiltrate a terrorist organisation of mutants and figure out who their ringleader is. What crime did these terrible terrorists commit? Well, they’ve evolved to eat plastics and other sorts of manmade wastes, which they compress down into strange purple ‘candy bars’ which are toxic and fatal to any regular humans unfortunate enough to sample one. While this is going on, he must navigate his relationships both with Caprice, and with surgery junkie Timlin (Kristen Stewart) from the National Organ Registry who has become rather obsessed with Saul and his surgery-as-art which she describes as “the new sex”.
The cast all do great work here, and special mention must be given to Kristen Stewart who, like Robert Pattinson, has definitely left the Twilight series behind her and is becoming a superb actress. Here she adds a lovely, nervous, obsessive energy to her portrayal of the timid bureaucrat who finds a new fascination to latch onto. The two engineers Router (Nadia Litz) and Berst (Tanaya Beatty) are quirky and interesting characters, which makes it all the more frustrating that their plot ends abruptly and with no explanation.
Crimes of the Future is available as both the standard Blu-ray, and a Limited Edition 4K/Blu-ray bundle which comes with a slipcase sporting new artwork from Marko Manev, six art cards, and a book with new essays from Tim Coleman, Hannah Strong and more. In terms of special features there’s the usual Second Sight smorgasbord of items on offer. There’s an audio commentary with Canadian author Caelum Vatsndal (They Came From Within: A History of Canadian Horror Cinema) which features the line “This is really an enormous piece of bacon she’s eating. I wonder if it’s some kind of a future bacon.” – and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
There’s the obligatory behind the scenes/making of, which is interesting to watch, and is informative without being dull. There are interviews with most of the main cast, including actors Kristen Stewart and Don McKellar, as well as the crew, including producer Robert Lantos and editor Christopher Donaldson.
The most interesting of the special features is ‘New Flesh, Future Crimes: The Body and David Cronenberg’ by Leigh Singer, which looks at the various themes that permeate almost all of Cronenberg’s work, which helps place Crimes of the Future in his overall body of work. The disc even includes the short film The Death of David Cronenberg, which features the director cuddling up to his own corpse. It’s a somewhat heavy-handed way to show your acceptance of your own mortality, but there’s no denying that the corpse is accurate enough to make the whole thing a little unsettling.
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Crimes of the Future is a movie with a message, a story to tell us about our modern world and how we might adapt to thrive in it and help repair the damage that we, as humans, have inflicted on it. It’s let down by a meandering and somewhat unsatisfying plot paired with some adorably shonky special effects that are likely to elicit laughter rather than anything else, with designs that don’t seem to have advanced much from the bio-mechanical stylings of 1999’s Existenz.
Personally I think I’ll stick with Cronenberg’s earlier films. People being sliced open while snuggling naked in an autopsy machine and musing over the human condition really can’t hold a candle to the exploding heads, full-on body horror and tight storytelling of his more horror-themed works.
Crimes of the Future is out on Blu-ray and Limited Edition Dual 4K UHD/Blu-ray on 11th September from Second Sight.