Crimes of the Future Pushes the Boundaries of Body Horror

Considered so graphic, viewers left the Cannes film festival screening within the first five minutes, and dozens more reached their limit by the film's halfway mark. But, those who stayed through the entire film were notably impressed, leading to a 7-minute-long standing ovation.
Crimes of the Future Review

Every couple of years, there’s talk of a movie that’s so disturbing, that it’s causing audience walkouts at premiere showings. This year, that honor goes to the sci-fi body horror flick Crimes of the Future, directed by the cinematic maestro of violence, David Cronenberg.

The new film, wherein graphic surgical displays have become avant-garde art, has been turning heads and stomachs as it hits cinemas around the globe. With top-billed talent like Viggo Mortensen, Lea Seydoux, and Kristin Stewart, Cronenberg’s latest project promises a disturbing tale accompanied by nuanced performances. Is Crimes of the Future a front-runner for the most disturbing movie of 2022, or are the reactions overblown?

Crimes of the Future Pushes the Boundaries of Body Horror

Artsy, vague, and often enigmatic in nature, Crimes of the Future doesn’t tell a traditional story. Still, it’s an evocative and interesting one all the same. Set at an undeclared point in the near future, humanity has evolved in some interesting ways, while the world continues to suffer from climate-driven destruction.

While great swaths of the globe have become uninhabitable and bleak, the human species has evolved remarkably, becoming numb to physical pain and suffering. Using this resilience to hone their craft, the performing artist couple Caprice (Lea Seydoux) and Saul (Viggo Mortensen) use extreme surgery as their art form. As Saul continuously grows new organs and Caprice cuts them out, the pair are tracked by members of the National Organ Registry, including the ever-stressed Timlin (Kristen Stewart).

In a world where soulless CGI special effects have dulled our sense of realism, body horror (when effectively used) is a good way of reminding the audience how disgusting things can get. When it comes to gross-out, squirm in your seat imagery, Cronenberg is one of the most talented men in the business. 

Crimes of the Future, which is the director’s first feature film in nearly a decade, shows us that this old master hasn’t lost his touch. Packed to the brim with crystal clear, unobscured sequences of flesh cutting, digging in bodily organs, and some upsetting deaths to boot. While it’s not as bloody or gratuitous as what you’d see in a slasher movie, the gore in Crimes of the Future is inventive and notably disturbing.

Even with the in-your-face surgeries and body mutilation, the movie attempts to strike a not-so-subtle vibe of sensuality. As Timlin states in the film, “surgery is the new sex”, and that couldn’t be any more true. Literal bloodlust is something that Cronenberg is pretty fond of, as it’s been a major theme in some of his previous films. Crimes of the Future is arguably the most blatant in its depictions.

This idea plays heavily into how the movie is framed, offering a softer and more gentle tone. While this helps to lessen the visceral impact of the film’s more violent scenes, it also provides a perverse twist, leading to some even more discomforting visuals. Without getting too graphic in detail, you can expect to see some mouth-on-wound action, which has been a bit too much for some audiences.

Critic Consensus and Audience Walkouts

Crimes of the Future premiered at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in France, catching the prestigious audience off-guard. As Cronenberg predicted before the film began, the grotesque surgeries shown on-screen were gruesome enough to warrant several walkouts.

While there were reports of people leaving the screening within the first five minutes, dozens more reached their limit by the film’s halfway mark. However, those who stayed through the entire film were notably impressed, leading to a 7-minute-long standing ovation.

It seems like, despite its macabre subject matter and unflinching visuals of violence, critics have been praising Cronenberg’s latest. Many call it a return to form for the director, highlighting the signature themes and squirm-in-your-seat nature of this artsy outing.

Dissenters have labeled Crimes of the Future as a film that’s too vague and lacks a proper narrative, but this seems to all come down to personal taste. At the very least, Crimes of the Future is a divisive film that has audiences split, which is something David Cronenberg is plenty familiar with.

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