I've been a movie enthusiast my whole life and been writing movie reviews for over 15 years.
Crimes of the Future is the new film from Canadian horror master David Cronenberg. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2022, followed by its theatrical run beginning in June. Response so far has been mixed, even underwhelming, considering Cronenberg’s pedigree.
If you haven't yet seen Crimes, here's something to get you in the mood. Granted, it's a weird mood, but nevertheless, here are David Cronenberg’s Top 5 films ranked from first to fifth. These weren’t easy decisions as some of Cronenberg’s more popular titles (The Fly, Scanners) didn’t make the list. Be sure to vote for your favorite David Cronenberg film in the two polls I included in the article.
1) The Brood (1979)
A metaphor (but never heavy handed) for how unhealed trauma can poison our future, David Cronenberg’s gives us the creepy homicidal kid horror movie of the 70s. A perfect blend of the visual terror of Shivers and Scanners, but with some of the heady (yet still unsettling) ideas of Videodrome and Existenz.
An eccentric and unorthodox psychologist (the late Oliver Reed) uses unconventional, um, techniques to cure his patients of self-imposed mental barriers. Some side effects include murder and some of the most sinister looking “children” ever put onscreen.
Why is this his best? It has more staying power than a good portion of his best movies as the scares have a little more emotional weight than you’d expect. And that ending. If you’ve never seen it, you won’t forget it.
2) A History of Violence (2005)
David Cronenberg’s best movie of this century is his first of four collaborations with actor Viggo Mortensen. A character driven thriller was one of the best movies of 2005. The premise couldn’t be simpler: A (seemingly) ordinary guy named Tom (Mortensen) stops a robbery in the most violent way and becomes a hero in his small town.
Since the incident gives him exposure outside his small end of the earth, some people you don’t want to see (including a menacing Ed Harris) stroll into town because Tom might not be Tom at all. The setup is simple but the story unfolds in ways you wouldn’t expect with more emotional resonance than your usual Cronenberg venture.
Yes, there’s graphic violence, but in 95 tight minutes David Cronenberg makes sure that violence means something. William Hurt got an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for less than 10 minutes worth of screentime. After you see it, you’ll know why.
3) Crash (1996)
Not to be confused with the undeserving winner for the Best Picture Oscar for 2005. Won an award for originality at the Cannes Film Festival and caused moviegoers to walk out of the theater at the same festival. Even if you haven’t seen it you’ve been intrigued or repulsed by the premise: people get sexually aroused by car crashes strive to sate their needs and wants any way they can.
Every actor in this film (James Spader, Holly Hunter) goes for broke and it works. Featuring graphic, almost joyless sex scenes (a scene set in a car wash in particular), as its desperation lingers with you long after the scene ends. People like what they like. They can’t help it. Cronenberg just makes the kink bloody mangled automobiles instead of _____ (insert fetish here).
At a breezy 96 minutes it feels a little too long, but for those 96 minutes you’re as enthralled as you are revolted. Unless you’re not. One of the most daring movies of the 90s and should be seen at least once for that reason alone.
4) The Dead Zone (1983)
David Cronenberg bringing a novel by Stephen King to the big screen. A match made in horror heaven. Thanks to an indelible performance by Christopher Walken it’s a more emotional experience than you were used to seeing from David Cronenberg at the time. It’s a pretty straightforward story about Johnny Smith (Walken) being in a coma for 4 years, waking up and having the ability to see the future.
For better but mostly for worse. Christopher Walken makes Smith’s every move and line delivery so believable that sometimes you forget you’re watching a horror movie. Martin Sheen steals scenes as a slimy politician. Cronenberg keeps things moving crisply in his most linear production. The final shot remains with you a while after the credits roll.
5) Videodrome (1983)
Debbie Harry. Like you need anything else.
James Woods’ Max Renn is a low level TV programmer looking to boost his ratings by any means necessary. Cronenberg’s disturbingly prescient premise for Videodrome: the fantastic and disturbing images we see on TV (and by extension the internet) will replace our current reality feels truer today than it might have in 1983.
James Woods’ nattering sleazy TV producer is an uncommon enough hero but we find ourselves rooting for him despite not liking much about Max as a character. Debbie Harry owns every scene she’s in. Videodrome is an almost perfect balance of the plausible and the implausible and as time goes by you see then line between then blurring by the day.
David Cronenberg made a chilling vision of the future. That future feels more real than it ever did back then. Videodrome’s horror fantasy is now a cautionary tale. Where are the Max Renns when you need them?
So difficult to pick a Top 5 for David Cronenberg. If I tried to write this list a week from now the order might be changed or Dead Ringers or Rabid might make this list. Either way, Canada’s master of body horror has made a slate of enduring films that will last for generations of horror fans. Before you see Crimes of the Future, be sure to revisit some of his older films.
© 2022 Noel Penaflor