David Cronenberg predicted audiences would walk out of Crimes of the Future within the first five minutes of its premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. This set many to expect that his latest would also be his most egregiously vile. Shockingly, the opening sequence deals less with the grotesque and more with the horrors of humanity. What follows is a noir mystery plot that raises several thought-provoking questions about human evolution but doesn’t answer many of them.
In this world, humans have evolved into their artificial environment. The body is constantly adapting to this new way of life by creating new organs with unforeseen consequences. Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) uses his unique ability as part of an artistic performance with his stage partner Caprice (Lea Seydoux). The implications of the next stage of human evolution capture the attention of government agencies and underground political groups.
As mentioned, anyone going into Crimes expecting a masterclass in body horror will walk away disappointed. Save for one truly revolting fellatio scene, many of the “performance” sequences failed to offer more than an explicit look at organs or slightly modulated human anatomy. However, these sequences are when the movie truly shines. They give the best idea of the type of world this is and the people who inhabit it. They always left me wanting to know more about how this deranged state of human evolution has come to be and where it might be heading. Unfortunately, the film does not offer a lot more.
The rest of the movie plays out like a detective noir as Saul searches for answers about a life-changing new organ system. He shares a hand in all different parties of the mystery, yet we never truly know what his motivations are. While the mystery itself is still compelling, many of the sequences surrounding it are the most disappointing. It’s simply Saul standing in an empty room or alleyway being fed information about the new organ system. For a story that feels heavily inspired by detective noir, there’s hardly any detecting from the main character. In fact, this is when I saw the most walkouts in the movie. Not because it was truly repulsive, but because it wasn’t all that interesting.
These parts of the film are where one hopes for more world-building. The concept of this dystopian future is so alluring, but we only get to explore it through exposition. While the lack of crowded areas is likely due to COVID restrictions, I never felt like it truly immersed me in its world. What does the average person look like? What jobs do they have? How does the rest of society respond to the new evolutions in the human body?
I will say, I was thoroughly engaged by the ideas raised about art. Art as an inner creation literally manifests in the film. The end result of Saul’s performances is the new organ grown inside him. While Saul chooses to dispose of his inner creations, others protest that he needs to embrace the changes in his body. It left me questioning whether art derived from trauma is a noble endeavor or a dangerous obsession.
While on the topic of art, the set and prop design are truly eerie. Surgical tools and body rigs take on skeletal shapes reminiscent of Alien. Even a chair meant to ease human digestion only could only have come from the mind of Cronenberg. Unfortunately, other ideas introduced in the film aren’t quite as satisfying to reflect on. The central theme revolves around human civilization’s ability to use our destruction of the world to our favor instead of fighting a losing battle. That’s a very interesting idea considering our current global waste issues and our inability to proactively stop it.
But right when the film tackles this issue head-on, it just… ends. I was fully engaged with the film up to this point and expected a satisfying culmination of its ideas and plot threads. Clocking in at 107 minutes, there easily could have been an extra 20-30 tying up loose ends. The film is meant to leave you asking those questions for yourself. However, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed when the credits rolled.
All this might be very satisfying for a long-time Cronenberg fan. But those who read clickbait headlines about how repulsive Crimes of the Future is will need to temper their expectations. The end result is a sci-fi premise sure to keep your head spinning for days but with an execution that sadly doesn’t do it justice. – Caleb Sadd
Crimes of the Future will release in theaters on June 3, 2022.