Cronenberg sets a sick scene but might be running out of ideas

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | June 9, 2022

Crimes of the Future
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2.5 out of 5

Quentin Tarantino argues filmmakers who go on for too long become a shadow of their younger selves. That’s why, he says, he’ll retire after his 10th movie.

His theory may apply to one of our great auteurs, David Cronenberg. The Toronto horrormeister has made some stone-cold classics, particularly during the ’80s and ’90s, but his last truly great movie was 2007’s Eastern Promises. Cosmopolis was inscrutable and self-indulgent, and, for a Hollywood satire, Maps to the Stars lacked teeth.

I have all the time in the world for Cronenberg, but my hopes for another Crash or ExistenZ are fading fast. It’s not like Crimes of the Future is a bad movie, but it doesn’t do anything the filmmaker hasn’t done before. At one point, a character proclaims “surgery is the new sex”,  triggering memories from when car crashes were the new sex (Crash), or when TV was the new sex (Videodrome), or when surgery was the new sex (Dead Ringers)… Wait a minute.

Set a few years ahead, humanity is going to hell in a handbasket not because of a virus or some despot with too much power, but due to evolutionary disarray (I’ll take it, beats the alternatives). People are growing new organs for no clear reason, to the point that a registry has to be created and a new police branch is established to deal with crimes… of the future. DUN-DUN.

Striding the line between the legal and the proscribed we find performance artists Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux). Saul grows organs without apparent purpose that Caprice extracts in underground happenings attended by weirdos with a strong stomach intrigued by evolution’s next stage.

Tenser isn’t just a performer with extra anatomy. He also works undercover for New Vice to clue them in on anything unseemly going on in the scene. Like the guy offering Tenser and Caprice the body of his murdered son to perform an autopsy.

Cronenberg’s focus on Tenser and Caprice results in the whole Crimes of the Future angle getting lost in the shuffle. Frequent hints that the authority doesn’t want the general public to get wind of these stories go nowhere. There’s some shock value and titillation, but their presence seems there just to weed out the weaklings.

The world the filmmaker has built for Crimes of the Future is rich and full of crevices, but I would be lying if I say it’s compelling. Am I intrigued by the next step in evolution and the repercussions at evert level? Maybe, if we had a shot at getting there.

Not one to phone it in, frequent collaborator Viggo Mortensen is believable as a guy growing extra parts inside of him: he looks pained and sickly throughout. For Léa Seydoux, edginess is par for the course. Kristen Stewart has a minor part as an organ registry drone turned fangirl. K-Stew is a delight and one wishes there was more of her than a glorified cameo. But the overachieving cast can’t save an effort full of half-baked ideas.

At the public showing I attended, there was only two other people, both of whom left well before the ending, not out of shock, but boredom. That’s the real crime.