David Cronenberg

1975
Shivers 62
[ In an apartment complex on Île-des-Soeurs, a professor strangles a schoolgirl to death, rips off her clothes, cuts her belly open and pours acid in it. Then he slits his own throat. Welcome into David Cronenberg’s first “commercial” movie! This is a perverse twist on zombie movies, with a bleak intellectual twist… but mostly perverse. The protagonist is a doctor who has to violently fight off tenants of the building who’ve been infected by parasites that are a “combination of aphrodisiac and venereal disease that will hopefully turn the world into one beautiful mindless orgy.” Cue the gore and titties! ]

1977
Rabid 79
[ The “Colonel Sanders of plastic surgery” takes in a badly injured biker chick (porno star Marilyn Chambers, surprisingly affecting), who wakes up from her coma as a sex-crazed mutant chick with a sphincter/phallus/claw in her armpit that spawns a rabies epidemic across Montreal! It’s pretty amazing how Cronenberg manages to turn you on and creep you out, often at the same time. This is pure exploitation, with a chaser of twisted humor, not unlike a Stephen King novella. Also, the introduction of martial law, as the army takes over the suddenly chaotic Montreal, makes for a bizarre allegory of the October 1970 FLQ crisis. “Rabid” is all kinds of fucked up, and I love it. ]

1979
Fast Company 39
[ This is by far the least distinctive movie Cronenberg has ever made – it’s his “Boxcar Bertha” or “Sugarland Express”. Don’t expect any bizarre sex, gore or psychologically twisted characters, this is just one of those ’70s car movies, nothing more nothing less. You got a bunch of drag racers trying to be badass, evil corporate shills, redneck comic relief, hotties showing their boobies, and a great recurring cock-rock theme song. Nothing very memorable, but it’s a watchable enough diversion on a hot summer evening while you’re having a couple of brewskies. ]

The Brood 46
[ Psychoplasmics, “fucked-up mommies”, therapy sessions and deformed brat attacks uneasily coexist in this thoroughly freaky internal horror show. I like the Bernard Herrmann-like score and the more over the top moments are memorable, but I had difficulty accepting the preposterous plot and the unpleasant subtext that comes with it. ]

1981
Scanners 68
[ Scanners can do Jedi mind-tricks, to the extreme: their Force will blow your mind, literally! The story follows a “new hope” who’s mentored by an Obi-wan type to go up against some kind of Darth Scanner… But this isn’t an action-packed space opera, it’s a more low-key, disturbing and cerebral affair, as you would expect from Cronenberg. There’s a little too much exposition, the acting is uneven and the internal logic is doubtful, but the film is commanding visually and the scanning scenes are truly intense. ]

1983
Videodrome 81
[ “Grotesque, as promised.”
James Woods is a sleazy bastard who’s looking for sexual and violent content for his TV station. He finds it in “Videodrome”, a plotless torture and murder show. He wants to buy it and his girl Deborah Harry (Blondie!) wants to audition for it… But what if it’s for real?
“Your reality is already half video hallucination. If you’re not careful, it will become total hallucination.”
Kinky, gory but mostly philosophical, Cronenberg’s movie is way ahead of its time. It suggests that video is “the next phase in the evolution of Man as a technological animal” and that “public life on television is more real than private life in the flesh”, which has proved to be remarkably prescient in this era of reality TV and the Internet. Your body will die eventually, but you’ll live on forever in reruns, Google cached pages and video hallucinations… ]

The Dead Zone 90
[ It starts off as a romantic melodrama: boy and girl fall in love, boy gets into an accident, spends 5 years in a coma and, when he finally wakes up, finds out that girl has moved on and married someone else. Then BOOM! boy grabs the nurse’s arm and starts rambling about vivid visions of the past, the present and… the future. This Stephen King adaptation, while not quite as brilliant as the book, is still a masterfully crafted supernatural thriller. It’s also kind of a super-hero origin, “with great power comes great responsibility” story. There’s a definite “Taxi Driver” thing going on as well, with the protagonist (intensely played by Christopher Walken) wanting to assassinate the politician for whom the woman he loves volunteers. ]

1986
The Fly 91
[ Cronenberg’s biggest hit thrives on the chemistry between dweeby scientist Jeff Goldblum and no-nonsense journalist Geena Davis. For a while, this is a wonderfully ’80s sci-fi comedy, not unlike “Weird Science” or “Back to the Future”, at least until that baboon is turned inside out. Then things get… weird. Goldblum teleports himself and, unbeknownst to him, a fly. He becomes all Spider-Man like, with superhuman strength and the ability to stick to walls… But it soon becomes clear that he’s less super-hero than super-villain… In fact, he’s mostly a self-destructive madman. I hadn’t seen the film since when I was a kid yet still vividly remembered the wicked gory creature FX, but what really hit me now is how this is as much a romantic tragedy as a horror flick. ]

1988
Dead Ringers 44
[ Sex, identity, body issues… This is Cronenberg alright, but only thematically. Stylistically, this is curiously flat. Genevieve Bujold’s “crazy” actress (is there any other kind?) is engaging, but Jeremy Irons’ double performance as twin gynecologists who are both laying her didn’t impress me all that much. It’s not that Irons isn’t good (he is), but his character(s) arc is obtuse and not very compelling. Drugs are bad, m’kay. ]

1991
Naked Lunch 53
[ Peter Weller rubs yellow powder on a cockroach’s talking asshole, who proceeds to tell him to kill his wife, then… Well, as the protagonist says early on, “exterminate all rational thought”. This in an odd one, even by Cronenberg standards. I like the noir/Kafka touches, the most surreal stuff is amusingly grotesque and it’s intriguing how the film incorporates both excerpts from the novel and elements from Burroughs’ life as a gay drug addicted writer. But the movie can also be self-indulgent… I dig weird stuff when it’s balanced with involving story and characters, not just weirdness for weirdness’ sake. ]

1993
M. Butterfly
Not on DVD yet!

1996
Crash 65
[ What the hell do filmmakers see in James Spader? Slimy yuppies are unappealing anyway, but when you cast Spader in the part, it adds this whole other layer of dull glibness. In this middle installment of his trilogy of playing perverted oddballs (which is book-ended by “sex, lies, and videotape” and “Secretary”), Spader gets involved with a group of people who get off on watching or having car accidents, going as far as recreating the fatal crash of James Dean. “Crash” alternates between mechanical sex scenes and erotic car chases/wrecks, effectively mirroring how Hollywood is generally better at showing destruction than lovemaking. Deborah Kara Unger, Holly Hunter and Rosanna Arquette get to act all horny and kinda nuts, but their characters are never fully developed. The most interesting presence in the film is undeniably Elias Koteas, oozing sexual tension and menace, and making Spader seem even more bland. While thematically interesting, visually masterful and boasting a great sound mix, Cronenberg’s movie is ultimately a bit too aimless, with too much fucking and not enough ideas to back them in the long run. ]

1999
eXistenZ 86
[ “Right now, we need to stop… so we can have an intimate moment together.”
I can’t believe I hadn’t seen this until now (thanks, CBC Late Night Movie). In fact, I really need to catch up to the bulk of Cronenberg’s oeuvre. Anyway, you can tell I really enjoyed this here “eXistenZ”. Love how deadpan cool Jennifer Jason Leigh is, how Jude Law is cast as a “nerd”, how video games are turned into some creepy (creepier?) zombie mind-trip, the matter-of-fact way the sci-fi elements pop up (that gun, that phone, the bio-ports, etc.). Love the offbeat sense of humor, Willem Dafoe’s weirdo mechanic, the psychosexual subtext (it’s basically all about Jude Law’s fear of being penetrated!), the sudden bursts of violence, Don McKellar’s unlikely hair and accent, the very self-referential post-modernism of the ending… “eXistenZ” is a metaphor for the nature of, well, existence, in marvellous synchronicity with the take on virtual reality displayed in “The Matrix”, which also came out in April 1999. I love it. ]

2002
Spider 37
[ Ralph Fiennes mumbles incoherently for 98 minutes while having flashbacks of his childhood with mum (Miranda Richardson), dad (Gabriel Byrne) and the “cheap tart” (Miranda Richardson again) that came between them. The end. I love Cronenberg, his more artsy-fartsy stuff not so much. ]

2005
A History of Violence 93
[ review ]

2007
Eastern Promises 90
[ review ] / [ interview ]


2011
A Dangerous Method 62
[ Thank God for Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen and Vincent Cassel! If it wasn’t for these three compelling screen presences, “A Dangerous Method” might have been a total letdown. An adaptation of Christopher Hampton’s play “The Talking Cure” which fails to make us forget about its stage origins, this is one of Cronenberg’s most formally conventional pictures. An elegant period piece, unavoidably talkative considering that its protagonists are psychoanalysts, it deals with a lot of fascinating, thought-provoking, still provocative a hundred years later ideas. There’s also something potent and somewhat amusing about the fact that the aforementioned psychoanalysts are all neurotic, more or less repressed perverts… But save for a few rare moments when the darker, more twisted aspects of this psychosexual drama are depicted visually, the film never really takes off; it also sometimes feels oddly disjointed. And then there’s Keira Knightley, who indulges in over-the-top scenery-chewing as the patient at the heart of the story, contorting her face, pushing her jaw forward, crying, laughing and shaking like she’s playing a possessed woman in an exorcism B-movie. That being said, I would still marginally recommend the film just to see Fassbender as Carl Jung, Mortensen as Sigmund Freud and Cassel as Otto Gross. Again, thank God for those guys! ]

2012
Cosmopolis 92
[ Now, this is what I call visionnary sci-fi – even though the bulk of the film is made up of scenes of people sitting and talking in a car. I mean, that’s the future: not spaceships, but the back of a stretch limousine filled with touch screens, where a twentysomething billionaire does business with various associates en route while, outside the limo’s bulletproof windows, the world is in chaos. Even though it’s based on a 2003 Don DeLillo novel that predates the Occupy Wall Street movement, Cosmopolis captures the current zeitgeist, what with its protagonist being very much the 1% and the people protesting in the streets of New York he’s being driven through or directly assaulting him embodying the 99%. Jam-packed with fascinating, brilliantly worded, often downright philosophical dialogue about contemporary economics and capitalism as well as life in the 21st century in general, Cosmopolis is also a darkly satirical, ultimately oddly moving character study of a not only functionnal but spectacularly successful sociopath. As such, it reminded me somewhat of American Psycho and, as hard as it may be to believe, Robert Pattinson’s performance is nearly as riveting as Christian Bale’s was in that movie. Inspired by James Joyce’s Ulysses, which itself borrowed elements from Homer’s Odyssey, DeLillo’s tale feature a succession of memorable figures whom Pattison’s character encounters during his journey, played in the film by an impressive cast that includes Sarah Gadon, Jay Baruchel, Juliette Binoche, Emily Hampshire, Samantha Morton, Mathieu Amalric, Gouchy Boy, Patricia McKensie, George Touliatos and Paul Giamatti – not to mention Kevin Durand, who’s simply awesome as Pattinson’s bodyguard. As mentionned, the majority of the action takes place in a limo, yet director David Cronenberg and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky manage to make Cosmopolis into a consistently visually stimulating experience thanks to clever, inventive framing and shot composition… And fear not, Cronenberg fans, there are still some startling bursts of sex and violence in his latest feature. All the same, it’s the words and the ideas that fill Cosmopolis that prove to be the most thrillingly provocative thing about it. I can’t begin to understand why the Cannes Film Festival jury ridiculously overlooked this truly amazing film. ]

2014
Maps to the Stars 19
[ I love David Cronenberg. And not just because of his early stuff. In the last 10 years, I put three of his films on my year-end Top Ten, namely “Cosmopolis”, “Eastern Promises” and “A History of Violence”, the latter at #1, no less. So it brings me no pleasure to write that “Maps to the Stars” might be the worst thing he’s ever made. Here’s a pretentious, contrived, disjointed picture filled with endless forced dialogue and preposterous situations. I guess screenwriter Bruce Wagner is to blame for most of that, but Cronenberg has to take some responsibility for how visually unappealing, sluggishly paced and tone-deaf the movie is. Ostensibly about Hollywood, as the heavy-handed name-dropping of real-life actors, directors and producers constantly reminds us, “Maps to the the Stars” never seems to be sure whether it’s a (bad) satire or a (bad) melodrama. We meet an obnoxious child star (Evan Bird), his mother and manager (Olivia Williams) and his father (John Cusack), a therapist whose patients include a neurotic hasbeen actress (Julianne Moore) who just hired a new assistant (Mia Wasikowska) that happens to have a connection to the child actor’s family… Add a lot of references to incest, fire and hallucinations and you’ll have a pretty close idea of what we’re dealing with here. Lots of fucked up showbiz people fucking up some more, basically. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing: a few days before I saw “Maps to the Stars”, I saw “Birdman”, which is also about fucked up showbiz people, but which manages to make them fascinating and hilarious instead of the boring, unfunny caricatures we’re stuck with here. Plus, compared to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s masterpiece, Cronenberg’s film feels all the more lame, labored and lifeless. I guess I should mention that it’s not entirely bad… Some of the performances are good, Julianne Moore’s notably. But hardly enough to make up for how flawed a picture this is. ]