Cannes 2022: Crimes of the Future

Crimes of the Future is a David Cronenberg body horror that just doesn’t feel disgusting enough

Film Review by Iana Murray | 25 May 2022
  • Crimes of the Future
Film title: Crimes of the Future
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart

“Surgery is the new sex,” a mousy-voiced Kristen Stewart whispers in David Cronenberg’s eerie Crimes of the Future. It’s a fitting thesis for the film itself, a story that treats the human body like a bloody, mangled canvas — and even more fitting for a director that has warped skin and bone in every gruesome way in films like Videodrome and The Fly.

In this world, humanity no longer feels pain and carving people out with a scalpel is the new pastime as alleyways are littered with amateur surgeons giving it a go with the knife. Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) takes the evolution of our species to its furthest extremes, seemingly manifesting new organs in his body. With his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux), they extract his “neo-organs” as part of a performance art piece watched by many. During their performances, he’s blissed-out, taking pleasure from the casual rearranging of his insides. 

Crimes of the Future is let down by a story that ultimately goes nowhere, though it certainly makes for a fascinating world-building exercise. Cronenberg mixes new and old technology, as film cameras flash away to capture Tenser’s surgery in an “autopsy unit” that’s extra-terrestrial in its design. It’s as if machinery itself is a living organism. Set in Athens, the locale further separates the story from any set time and place, and the city's ancient streets lend a timelessness that converges past and future. 

Strangely for Cronenberg, the film strangely doesn’t feel disgusting enough. The subpar CGI adds an artificial sheen to the film’s grimy aesthetic and tamps down on its extremities. Body horror can elicit extreme empathy in the viewer by fixating on the characters' pain endured, but when Cronenberg takes away the power to make us feel pain like the person we’re watching, we become just as numb. Crimes of the Future is body horror at its most transgressive because of how shockingly unsurprising it is.

Crimes of the Future had its world premiere at Cannes