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Crimes Fails to Captivate 

click to enlarge Does this light make my ears look big?

Crimes of the Future

Does this light make my ears look big?

Crimes of the Future. I suspect the only people ambivalent about the work of David Cronenberg are those who have not seen it. For all the rest, he is a polarizing figure: either a loathsome degenerate or one of the most noteworthy creators working in the medium; OK, maybe both. Matters of taste aside, he remains one of the most significant voices in modern cinema and one of the — increasingly — rare few who, after making significant contributions to the color and shape of movies over the decades, continues to generate lively, distinctive work.

As one of the originators of what would become known as "body horror," Cronenberg has spent the better part of six decades exploring (perhaps more aptly dissecting) the human form, particularly as it relates to and is governed by some of the cruder, less-understood impulses of the brain and technology created thereby. He has simultaneously, through mastery of the form, elevated these explorations to high art, wherein lies the challenge (for some). He has cultivated a complete aesthetic, a finely controlled assemblage of casting, lighting, sound, camera placement/movement and editing, that is uniquely his own. So much so that his work, among only a handful of contemporaries, is recognizable within seconds, if not mere frames. Granted, those frames may well contain a bony, alien protuberance affixed to or at work on a human body; no fair cheating.

Point being, Cronenberg is, was and will be an artist with something to say, even if the audience to which he says it diminishes with time. And so, to me, Crimes of the Future, his first feature since Maps to the Stars (2014), was required viewing and something I looked forward to.

To backtrack, I probably first became aware of his work through references to Scanners (1981), most memorably in Wayne's World (1992), which I'll freely admit was a more significant influence on me at the time. But in fairly short order I became acquainted with his ingenious, deliriously disgusting version of The Fly (1986), a showcase for leads Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum, as well as the goo and prostheses that partially define the Cronenberg canon. Meanwhile, I would catch fragments of his Naked Lunch (1993) adaptation on the Independent Film Channel and its perverse puppetry began to color my dreams. And then, of course, there was Crash (1996), which I watched at a particularly formative, probably problematic moment in my development. Since overshadowed by Paul Haggis' misguided, tone-deaf, denigrated-in-hindsight Oscar winner of the same title, the first and only true Crash is an adaptation of JG Ballard as only Cronenberg could do it, exposing a visceral connection between machinery, injury and sexuality that must — or must not, depending on one's sensitivities — be seen to be reckoned with. The following decade brought A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007), both bloody, bruising departures from the themes of Cronenberg's earlier work but also appropriate, troubling, unsettlingly satisfying additions to his resume.

Crimes of the Future marks something of a return to those earlier themes, harkening back especially to the medical grotesquerie and anachronistic futurism of Dead Ringers (1988). In a near future — parallel present, maybe, it's hard to say — unknown influences have altered the course of human evolution. Pain is experienced only by a rare few, apparently only in sleep. Surgery has become a popular underground pastime occasionally elevated to performance. Oh, lest I forget, people tend to grow previously unseen organs which, by rule of law, are removed and then cataloged by a government agency.

Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and Caprice (Léa Seydoux) have become prominent figures in the scene, with her public removal of his tattooed innards an event breathlessly awaited by the faithful. Meanwhile, a fringe group prepares to make their particular brand of guided mutation known to the world, even as the powers that be encircle them.

It would be unfair to call Crimes of the Future disappointing. It is exceptionally well-acted, with Kristen Steward doing especially amazing work as a weird, mousy sycophant. Howard Shore's music is appropriately haunting and the Cronenberg trademarks are firmly in place. But the story — and perhaps it is a mistake to attach too much importance to it — seems underdeveloped. The central idea, the germ in the movie's tissue, is fascinating but insufficiently explored to be captivating. R. 107M. AMAZON PRIME.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

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For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.

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