Movie reviews: ‘Crimes of the Future’ and more


FUTURE CRIMES: 3 ½ STARS

This image posted by Neon shows Lea Seydoux, in the background, and Viggo Mortesen in a scene from “Crimes of the Future.” (Neon via AP)

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If so, David Cronenberg needs to bask in the thoughtful glow of a pretty serious movie. Body Horror’s OG influence can be seen in grim detail in recent films like Palme d’Or winner “Titanium” and Natalie Portman’s bio-thriller “Annihilation,” among others.

The Grosso Rosso Virtuoso returns to film after an eight-year hiatus with “Crimes of the Future,” an all-star story of eroticized human evolution starring Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen and Léa Seydoux.

Named after an early Cronenberg film and based on a screenplay the director wrote in the early 2000s, ‘Crimes of the Future’ is set in a time when ‘accelerated evolution syndrome’ has all but eliminated pain in most humans.

“Office surgery” is commonplace and a practice that performance artist Saul Tenser (Mortensen) and former trauma surgeon Caprice (Seydoux) are turning into a form of nightclub bio-entertainment.

Saul’s advanced AES allows him to grow new, never-before-seen organs, which Caprice removes as part of their medical-theatrical shows. The gruesome act attracts a lot of attention, especially from Timlin (Kristen Stewart), a National Organ Registry investigator who is enchanted by Saul. “Surgery is the new sex,” she coos. “I wanted you to cut me off.”

There is more. Transformation activist Lang Dotrice (Scott Speedman) asks Saul and Caprice to perform a public autopsy on his late eight-year-old son. The new Vices Unit (“There’s No Crime Like This!”) investigates the fast-paced world of body modification while Saul considers entering a veritable “inner beauty contest.”

Despite the array of body parts we see onscreen, the most important body part in “Future Crimes” is the head – Cronenberg’s head. The director has made a cerebral film, a film that riffs on his “old flesh versus new flesh” mantra from the “Videodrome” era.

Loaded with metaphors, it’s a portrait of a rapidly changing world where bodies are changing and shadowy governmental organizations are working feverishly to understand the repercussions. They fear that too much evolution will lead to insurrection. That we’ll end up transforming into something that’s not strictly human, and we’ll wonder what happens when we can’t feel anything anymore.

This last point is the beating heart of the film. When Saul tells Timlin he’s “not very good at the old sex,” it signals a search for something new, for different sensations. In a numb world, where do you go for the kicks? Is it the performance art of Saul and Caprice, or something else? Is it an evolution or a revolution, or both? If everything changes, is there anything new?

“Crimes of the Future” asks many questions, but stops short of providing understandable resolutions. Cronenberg is interested in provocation, world-building, bringing together previously studied themes (cults, new flesh, odd children) in a new way of adding brushstrokes to a painting he started with films such as “Shvers” and “Rabid”.

Mortensen, Cronenberg’s muse for “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises”, slips into Saul’s shoes. Charismatic, he is a kind of rock star, ready to give himself for his art. Often hidden under an Ingmar Bergman “Seventh Seal” cape, he’s a reluctant celebrity, a man who spends most of the film reacting to his environment, his body, and its mutations. It’s something different for Mortensen. Saul is a passive, brooding character vulnerable to the vagaries of his ever-changing body. It’s a quiet but powerful performance that details a man trying to maintain his humanity, despite eliminating many of his most human traits, pain being chief among them.

Co-star Seydoux’s mix of sensuality, artistry and humanity brings warmth to the film’s cold texture.

Stewart, like the Timlin mouse, is all about eagerness. She is shy but inquisitive, speaking in an odd cadence, as if a hummingbird is doubling her lines.

Both help to blunt the edge of the blood-splattered story, bringing feelings to a world drained of such feelings.

“Crimes of the Future” is a mine of ideas. The neo-noir setting hosts an unconventional love story, a parable about climate change (the characters have a taste for waste in a world where waste is becoming more accessible than food), evolution and the search for feeling something real. The result is a subversive film that, as Caprice puts it, is “juicy in meaning,” but perhaps too enigmatic for those unfamiliar with the director’s body horror oeuvre.

THE RIGHTEOUS: 3 ½ STARS

A scene from ‘The Righteous’. (Arrows Movies)

“The Righteous,” a new supernatural thriller written, directed and starring “City on a Hill’s” Mark O’Brien, is a slow, unsettling burn about redemption and retribution that asks, “What is the price of sin? “

“Be careful what you wish for. But be certain of what you pray for.

Shot in lush black and white, and set in a house far from the nearest neighbor, the quiet surroundings echo the dark lives led by Frederic (Henry Czerny) and Ethel (Mimi Kuzyk) Mason, a still-scathing married couple from the loss of their daughter.

Frederick is a pious man, a former priest who left the church in scandal after falling in love with Ethel. Their carefully calibrated lives are turned upside down when Aaron Smith (O’Brien), a wounded man with good manners and a secret, shows up on their doorstep. Lost, he needs help, help that Frédéric is happy to oblige. “Where do you come from?” “Everywhere,” he replies.

At first he is a welcome guest. Ethel warms to him, finding solace in the presence of a young person to fill the hole in her heart. But late-night conversations between Frederic and Aaron change the nature of their relationship, leading to a volatile situation and a horrifying demand.

“The Righteous” is a psychological thriller that takes its time, slowly but surely dispensing with the story’s inherent sense of menace. As the tension mounts, director O’Brien resists the temptation to step up the action. Instead, it trusts the script and the performances to deliver the strange and powerful story of the atonement.

The horror of the situation intensifies thanks to the battle of wills between Aaron and Frederic. It is the struggle between good and evil, of faith and secular life, propelled by a series of kitchen table conversations between Aaron and Frederic that are the yellowish soul of this story. Beautifully performed, these are bedroom pieces, enhanced by subtle but effective lighting changes that telegraph the shifting mood and spiritual angst of the scenes.

A small film with big ideas, “The Righteous” succeeds thanks to the clarity of the direction – O’Brien knows what he wants to do in every scene – and the performances, of the tortured gravity of Czerny and the warmth of Kuzyk, to the enigmatic work of O’Brien.

FOXHOLE: 3 STARS

A scene from “Foxhole”. (GLASS EYE PIX)

“Foxhole,” a new anti-war film now on VOD, connects five soldiers during three conflicts — the American Civil War, World War I and the Iraq War — as they make the kind of life decisions or of death this could have far-reaching repercussions.

Director Jack Fessenden takes advantage of a small budget to bring his film’s intergenerational gimmick to life.

Divided into three vignettes, all full of confusion and camaraderie, each segment is shot in a cinematic style that reflects the era in which it is set. From the sepia-toned look of the Civil War section and the formalistic black-and-white propaganda film feel of the World War I segment, to the more frenetic Iraq War sequence, each stands out stylistically.

What connects multi-generational stories are the actors, who play different characters each time, and the moral dilemmas they face. These sequences are claustrophobic, full of danger, volatility and a sense of uncertainty. As these elements swirl, the abandoned soldiers are faced with ethical decisions.

During the Civil War, four Union soldiers must decide whether or not to transport a seriously injured black soldier (Motell Gyn Foster) to the hospital for treatment. The question of the dead or alive value of a German captive is central to the Great War vignette, while the Iraq War section shows the horror of an ambush.

The actors, Foster, Cody Kostro, Angus O’Brien, Alex Hurt, Alex Breaux, Asa Spurlock and James Le Gros, skillfully portray the range of honor, sacrifice and camaraderie inherent in the character of a soldier and work valiantly to through the wall of the dialogue scenario. Yet, as wordy and at times pedantic as Fessenden’s screenplay is, the ideas buried within are thought-provoking.

The visuals are stronger though. The film is completed by twin shots that show both the futility and the inevitability of war. These two shots, separated by 100 years, encapsulate the film’s anti-war sentiment in a “language” stronger than any of the dialogue.

“Foxhole” is an uneven, albeit bold and ambitious film that does better as a provocative purveyor of ideas than as a cohesive whole.

Previous Fire Island, Future Crimes and A Chiara
Next Film reviews: "Swallowed" (Overlook Film Festival)