Writer-director David Cronenberg returns to his speculative roots with Crimes of the Future (2022), an unsettling blend of body horror and dystopian science fiction, rife with indelible strangeness. In a future characterized by invasive new biotech and rampant physiological mutation, Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) is a man who spontaneously generates mysterious new internal organs. He has turned his suffering into art by having the organs publically removed by former surgeon and performing partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux). Saul’s reputation as a minor celebrity has caught the eye of quirky administrators from the National Organ Registry, Timlin (Kristen Stewart) and Wippet (Don McKellar), whose bureaucratic duty is only trumped by the perverse, prurient attraction to Saul’s unique deformity. Also in the mix is Lang Dotrice (Scott Speedman), a mourning father leading a new movement to embrace humanity’s inexorable evolutionary change. But Saul is caught between two worlds: the one seeking to retain his humanity, and the one relishing being on the threshold of a new normal. His involvement with a “New Vice” detective named Cope (Welket Bungué) leads to an inflection point when the schemes of numerous angling factions collide.
Crimes of the Future is a queasy watch, as Cronenberg leans into graphic depictions of violence, surgery, and unnerving deformity. But there’s also a confident artistry to his throwback future-building; even as it wrestles with timely concerns about post-industrial collapse and its environmental consequences, it possesses a certain 1970s retro sensibility. This introduces a distancing layer of fantasy to its grimness, which makes the journey more palatable, without undercutting the message. Also appealing is how thoroughly the people of this world have adapted to an alien new landscape; the mores of the current mainstream are firmly in the rearview mirror, even if certain elements of their conservative eye linger within the characters. The result is a transporting film that revels in its uncomfortable reality, a viewing experience enhanced by nuanced, all-in performances from its cast—especially Mortensen, Stewart, and McKellar, who are all particularly good. A confident, unforgiving vision likely to generate a cult following.