David Cronenberg’s ‘The Fly’ is still a perfect horror movie

His new movie, “Crimes of the Future,” is disturbing, but it can’t compare to the balance of scares and pathos of that 1986 remake, its ingenious mix of social commentary and crude genius.

This weekend saw the release of Future Crimes, David Cronenberg’s first film in eight years. But perhaps more importantly, it’s also Cronenberg’s first film in a long time to feel like his old films – body horror classics such as Videodrome in which strange/disgusting things happen and the audience is also repelled and delighted. Longtime fans were particularly excited after the 79-year-old author said ahead of his new film’s Cannes premiere: “There are some very strong scenes. I mean, I’m sure we’ll have some walkouts in the first five minutes of the movie. I’m sure. Some people who saw the movie said they thought the last 20 minutes would be very hard on people and there would be a lot of walkouts. A guy said he almost had a panic attack. And I say, ‘Well, that would be nice.’ It sounds like the twisted Cronenberg we know and love.

Alas, it oversold Future Crimes‘s a little shock value. Granted, this is a moody, peculiar film about a near future in which humans can grow new organs inside themselves and, according to one character, “Surgery is the new sex.” But in terms of horrifying and disturbing imagery, it pales in comparison to the director’s finest works.

When you portray a filmmaker as “shocking,” you always run the risk of raising expectations in the minds of the audience, dooming them to disappointment when what’s on screen isn’t as outrageous as it looks. imagined. As a result, I suspect some will be disappointed by Future Crimes – “Expect, that’s it– but I’m quite sure that Cronenberg’s masterpiece still holds up. Thirty-six years after its release, his remake of Fly has lost none of its ability to upset and disgust you. There are images that have haunted me ever since. But it’s also a delicate love story and a poignant metaphor for the AIDS epidemic. Fly is a product of its time but also transcends it. If there is a perfect horror movie, this is it.

Throughout his career, the Canadian writer-director has largely avoided the corporate studio system. “I didn’t make my movies in Hollywood,” Cronenberg once said. “I flirt with it. I want to use the machine. … The closest I came was with Fly, which was the only studio film I did. The film, based on a short story (which had already been made into a 1958 film, directed by Kurt Neumann), has a classic horror setup. Jeff Goldblum plays Seth Brundle, an eccentric scientist working on teleportation, convinced he’s on the verge of a major breakthrough. But in the tradition of many mad scientists before him, Seth will discover that one should not play with the laws of nature. Playing God rarely works well.

In 2022, being told that a movie stars Jeff Goldblum is likely creating the expectation that you’ll see the great, eccentric storyteller essentially playing himself, which he’s been doing mostly ever since. jurassic park. But while Seth is certainly a weird duck, it’s amazing to see a performance from Goldblum that goes beyond his current internet boyfriend persona. There’s something nervous and unpredictable about him in Fly – an edge that has been sanded recently. As Seth, he looks like an actual human being, which is why what’s happening to him is so horrible.

At the beginning of Fly, Seth meets Ronnie (Geena Davis), a journalist interested in his work who falls in love with him. Indeed, things seem to be going well for Seth both professionally and romantically, but one night he gets drunk, insecure after he mistakenly thinks she was trying to get back together with an old flame. And then he makes a decision that will impact the rest of his short life: he impulsively chooses to use himself as his teleporter’s last guinea pig, “jumping” from pod to pod, unaware that a fly entered the machine at the same time. .

Even before that, however, Fly prepared us to anticipate horrific events. A failed initial experience involving a baboon is so earth-shattering that it sets the stage for clashes to come, which are more unsettling because they’ll involve characters we care about. No matter how wonderfully revolting the makeup job Fly — Oscar-winning artists Chris Walas and Stephan Dupuis — Seth’s slow, painful deterioration wouldn’t be so heartbreaking if not for the tender relationship between Goldblum and Davis. In their eyes, we see a tragedy unfold.

At first, Seth’s transformation after his “jump” leaves him elated, blessed with increased agility and strength from his housefly companion. But in one of the film’s very 1980s aspects, this brief burst of superpowers turns out to be little more than a temporary cocaine high, leading to a disastrous crash. The surge of arrogance that comes with it fades as well, and soon Seth’s body crumbles, Goldblum navigating each terrible stage of his character’s physical and mental disintegration, the fly’s DNA rewriting his own. You can feel the growing awareness of this confident scientist that his end is near and there is nothing he can do about it. All we (and Ronnie) can do is watch, helpless to change the outcome, but concerned about how things will get worse for him.

With his portrait of a man whose body rebels against him, Fly was frighteningly topical at a time when AIDS was in the national news – that mysterious, unstoppable and deadly disease that reduced once healthy individuals to emaciated shells of themselves. But in our COVID times, the film’s air of creeping illness remains eerily foreboding – not to mention Ronnie’s sadness at having to watch her boyfriend wither away eerily reminiscent of recent dramas, like The father and Vortexwhich feature characters succumbing to dementia.

Cronenberg has long resisted the idea of ​​him doing body horror. “[T]it’s not my expression,” he recently said. “I’ve never used it. I never imagined it. Someone suggested it and it stuck because it’s catchy and it’s easy to compare things. But, for me, that does not describe my films at all. Nevertheless, especially in Fly, he uses his unique talent to illustrate how awful it is to no longer rely on our physical selves – how our bodies can turn against us, trapping us in a prison from which we cannot escape. Seth’s downfall is not due to pride but rather a stupid, impulsive mistake he makes in a moment of weakness. Yet we watch him pay, until the film’s anguished end.

So many horror movies involve bogeymen – masked killers, evil spirits, menacing outside forces – that the relative simplicity of FlyThe terror of might be hard to absorb for contemporary viewers. At its core, the film is about a happy young couple whose relationship is cut short by an illness that will destroy one of them – and may claim the other person as well. As Seth gets worse, he will jeopardize Ronnie, who discovers she is pregnant with his child. Especially now that Roe v. Wade is in danger, it is surprising to watch a studio film from the 1980s in which abortion is seriously discussed as an option. (She’s afraid the baby will turn into a monster and want to kill him, when he’ll stop at nothing to protect the fetus since it may be the only semblance of his human essence he has left.) That we won’t know never actually what happens to the pregnancy symbolizes FlyThe strained effectiveness of: Everything not essential to the central story is eliminated, with Cronenberg focusing on the unseen terror gutting Seth from within, transforming him until very little remains” Seth”.

In other words, give up all hope, you who enter Fly – there is no happy ending waiting for these characters. But even so, Cronenberg gets incredibly dark with its finale, raising questions about euthanasia that are so unsettling that you might – for a while anyway – be distracted by the brilliantly sickening makeup effects implemented. (You’ve never seen puking like you do in this movie.) Horror movies are supposed to scare us, but few bring tears like this. Fly fact, the scale of these characters’ personal apocalypse amplified by the coldness of Cronenberg’s approach. At the antipodes of a warm and fuzzy filmmaker, he lends a respectful distance to the material, fixing the horror of a distance that makes everything that happens all the more terrible by its icy fatality.

The scariest thing about life are the things you don’t see—the anxious certainty that we are all slowly falling apart, helpless to stop our bodies from ever betraying us. Cronenberg said the last 20 minutes of Future Crimes will be hard on people. I don’t think that’s accurate, but it’s absolutely true in the case of FlyThe final stretches of , which are exhilarating and nightmarish and weirdly moving at the same time. Cronenberg would part ways with Hollywood soon after, but he left behind one of the seminal studio films of the decade. Few great films have been so unnerving and beautiful at the same time. Surely none of them have been so disgusting.

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