Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Sid works as a lifestyle consultant at a firm that supplies people with the diseases of their idols. His spiel to the customer is creepy for both its insidiousness and the rote-learned delivery Sid tries to conceal with a sensuous purr. As he leaves work each day he is frisked and asked to declare that he isn't carrying (dig the double entendre) any property of the company. At home he inserts a smuggled sample into a machine that looks like a clanking prototype and proceeds to remove the copyright from the virus he's just injected. He's going to sell it on the black market whose outlet is a butcher's shop that sells steaks derived from the cells of celebrities.
Got all that? There's more. The first half hour of this film hits you with a new wow concept every few minutes. How does one celebrity get an unscheduled disease? She went to China and caught a knock off. And on. This is the work of someone who has paused after a brainwave notion and thought about the world it describes. When this approach goes flat it grates like overthought comedy but here everything we encounter about this society seems to fit as though it was in the room when we got there.
Just as natural is the choice of casting. Caleb Landry Jones wears his suits like a coat hanger. When you first see him you wonder if there's anything under the fabric except a wire frame. He skulks and shifts as though the light of the interiors, though artificial, will only increase the population of ginger freckles on his small, intense face. He's like a very young Brad Dourif without the brutality. As such he moves through his character's phases with the adaptiveness of a camouflaging insect, convincing us variously of his health, ill health, intellect and survivalism without showing any of his working.
That's good because this is a film that threatens to collapse under the weight of its ideas in a second act weakened by inertia and repetition. This is the aspect that doesn't look well schooled or confident. So much time is spent drawing out the consequences of his fateful action at the end of the first act and at the same time blending his (intentionally) awkward relationship with a particular celebrity that by the time we get to the inevitable twists and turns they feel like they're being read out of the screenplay seminar handbook.
But then the third act finds its feet and delivers the promises of the first up to the final breathtaking image of consummation.
I should point out that even though I saw this film much earlier this year I was unable to review it as the preview screening I went to at the Nova stalled when the projection or the DCP caught a virus (yes, everyone in the audience was cracking that one) and I and my friend decided to leave after a seemingly interminable ten or so minutes. Until I caught up with it recently and got to the ending it had left an unbreathing sense of disappointment in me which no amount of guessing could placate.
But the finale is as strong and awe-inspiring as anything out of the director's Dad's mind. This film that would have been called Cronenbergian if the director's name was Smith offers no slight to the family tradition. Even the dumpy middle act is no mark against when you consider how the effects and ideas took precedence over the performances in Cronenberg senior's early pieces.
So why did Brandon Cronenberg, the only person who could never get away with his thematic choice being automatically questioned by virtue of the circumstances of his birth choose to make a body horror first off? I Googled interviews with him and he emerges well. The idea of celebrity culture plus a digitised biology got his mind soaring. He didn't do a musical or a buddy movie because this one got in the way of everything else.
Also, he doesn't have to be David Cronenberg's son to want to make a Cronenberg film. Cronenberg Snr put such a bug into film culture with his early work that no sci-fi that isn't just high (i.e. single) concept popcorn what-if can quite escape the duty to add that, yes, viral strain of satire to be fulfilling. There are so many but straight up Todd Haynes's deep and troubling Safe comes to mind. More recently the films of Zal Batmanglij and Britt Marling (Sound of My Voice or The East) have had no trouble taking aim at the hive-mindedness, venality or political sleaze their authors see around them and coating it all in the alien sheen of a Videodrome or a Crash. The time is never the future. The time is always now.