At Thursday night’s New York premiere of “Crimes of the Future,” controversial director David Cronenberg issued an ominous warning: “Maybe we’ll see you at the end.”
Running time: 107 minutes. Rated R (strong disturbing violent content and grisly images, graphic nudity and some language.) In theaters.
“Maybe” is right. His latest shocking movie begins with a mother suffocating her 8-year-old son using a pillow, and that turned out to be one of the evening’s lighter scenes.
Later on, during many gruesome surgeries flew the viewers’ hands up to shield their faces from the full-view blood, organs and intestines that enveloped the screen. I was seated in the front row, which was practically a splash zone. Two confused, squirming, squealing women next to me surely got lost on the way to “Top Gun: Maverick.”
Can’t blame them. Cronenberg’s warped vision of what’s to come makes the technological apocalypse of “Terminator” look like a Build-a-Bear Workshop.
The human body, we learn, has chaotically evolved and begun growing invasive, nonfunctioning organs. Because of the changing world, a growing portion of the population has taken to eating and metabolizing plastic. People no longer feel pain or suffer from disease (great!), so a lot of folks’ new kink is cutting each other on street corners as a replacement for sex (barf!).
Borrowing a page from the singing strippers of “Gypsy” — “You gotta get a gimmick!” — the main characters, Saul (Viggo Mortensen) and Caprice (Léa Seydoux), have enterprisingly turned the inconvenient growths into performance art. Caprice will surgically excise a shapely mass from Saul’s person as a live audience snaps photos. They’re hotter than the MCU.
We hope that all these offal offenses are meant to satirize our own world’s pretentious artists. Perhaps pale, black-hood-wearing Saul is a stand-in for Tilda Swinton in a glass box at MoMA or a Banksy drawing shredding itself. However, the movie’s tone is consistently somber and Mortensen called the film a “noir” in an interview.
A stab or two at humor comes from Kristen Stewart as Timlin, an employee of the tiny National Organ Registry alongside her boss Whippet (Don McKellar). Meek and with a much higher pitched voice than Stewart’s Princess Diana, Timlin comically flutters her eyes at Saul like he’s Harry Styles rather than a freakshow. After one of her performances, she whispers to him, “Surgery is the new sex.”
Doesn’t get more dystopian than that.
On “Crimes,” you gag a lot more than you giggle. Saul and Caprice lay naked and entwined on an operating table covered in bloody cuts with “was it good for you?” facial expressions. Saul, who’s a medical mess, tries to force slop down his throat with the help of a chair that puts his spine and esophagus in proper alignment. Mortensen always swallows as he speaks, as if about to vomit.
If you’re not used to Cronenberg’s body horror style that made him famous in the 1970s with films like “Shivers,” you might actually vomit.
More nausea will hit you when the father (Scott Speedman) of the smothered 8-year-old asks Saul to perform a public autopsy on the kid. The little boy was a plastic eater, and dad wants to expose that humanity has shifted, since the government is trying to hide that fact. They slice him open on an operating table that looks like a giant mummified acorn. The film fizzles out in the end.
The cool surgical tools that blend tech and living tissue are reminiscent of the director’s 1999 movie “eXistenZ.” And Cronenberg’s visuals, appalling though they may be, are characteristically striking.
Trouble is for “Crimes of the Future,” audiences have to first remove their hands from their eyes to see them.