David Cronenberg is the godfather of body horror, a subgenre he pioneered in the ‘70s with such boundary-pushing indies as Shivers, Rabid and The Brood, and then introduced to the mainstream in the ‘80s and ‘90s with the likes of Scanners, The Fly, Dead Ringers and the Cannes Film Festival-hailed Crash. In those and other works, the 79-year-old Canadian auteur explored the twisted ramifications of infection and invasion, as well as mined the uneasy and constantly mutating relationship shared by man and machine—all of which persistently threatened to give birth to a concept described, in 1983’s unforgettable Videodrome, as “the new flesh.” Transgressively challenging and creepy, they’re works that aim to get under the figurative and literal skin, where they can fester and pervert, forcing viewers to reckon with the strange and sinister symbiotic bond between sex and violence, contamination and corruption.
Since 1999’s eXistenZ, however, Cronenberg has largely moved away from such concerns, or at least segued out of the nominal horror arena for more diverse projects. Thus, there’s been no shortage of excitement regarding his return to his old stomping ground with Crimes of the Future. In theaters now, the director’s latest is situated in a world in which climate change has caused humans to begin growing mysterious new organs, which have been outlawed and are policed by the New Vice Unit and are cultivated, tattooed and then excised for display by Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen, Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method leading man), a performance artist engaged in intimate collaboration with his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux). Tenser nurtures his organic creations via a variety of biotech devices that seem to have been designed by Satan’s decorator, and he and Caprice display their art for adoring audiences, who soon come to include Timlin (Kristen Stewart) and Whippet (Don McKellar), two National Organ Registry officials who are awestruck by the bizarre byproducts of Tenser’s body.
As that synopsis likely suggests, Crimes of the Future is not for everyone, and that’s without even getting into a shocking opening act having to do with a young boy capable of eating inorganic material and the child’s mysterious father Lang (Scott Speedman). Those with a healthy appetite for the outlandish and grotesque, though, will quickly take to Cronenberg’s hallucinatory nightmare, not only because of its visions of surgery and mutilation, but due to its jet-black sense of humor. Lurking beneath the film’s exterior is a droll satire of art-world pretensions and absurdities—an element which shows that Cronenberg has far more than mere provocation on his mind. Following its celebrated premiere at this May’s Cannes Film Festival, we sat down with the legendary director to discuss body horror, carnal comedy, and his renewed passion for filmmaking.