For Reel


Scanners (1981)
December 17, 2015, 5:18 pm
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Director: David Cronenberg
2.5 Stars
ScannersDavid Cronenberg had succeeded in bridging the psychological and visceral gap with The Brood, a film in which a woman’s rage against her family manifested as murderous offspring. With Scanners, the film in which Cronenberg first achieved mainstream success, he continued that pattern by focusing on telepaths whose “scanning” plays as a disturbing violation with gruesome consequences. The thought that humanity is forcibly evolving into a hive mind where people are connected through their nervous systems plays as slightly prophetic in a time when the internet and social networks have complicated what it means to be an individual, but unfortunately Scanners has not aged well in other ways. By the time Scanners really gets going–in the aforementioned suggestion of a dehumanizing corporation instigating these psychological changes; in the brother vs. brother climax–it peters out (albeit with an admittedly memorable finale). And if Cronenberg is more than the sum of his visceral thrills, it is nonetheless disappointing to see such a visually imaginative surrealist simply have actors stare at each other and convulse. Telekinesis, as it turns out, is not the most cinematic of powers, and relying on Stephen Lack’s mask-like visage to tell the story of these mental encroachments is a severe handicap.



The Brood (1979)
December 17, 2015, 5:11 pm
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Director: David Cronenberg
4 Stars
The BroodAs is often the case with David Cronenberg’s early work, The Brood addresses a certain kind of violation, its dramatics hinging on a type of metaphorical rape. Shivers, Scanners, and Videodrome addressed this penetrative action more bluntly, but The Brood suggests that Dr. Hal Raglan’s (Oliver Reed) method of “psychoplasmics” is unethical and exploitative, forcing his patients to surface their most repressed emotions and thereby distorting and perverting them all the more. That the film concerns the physical manifestations of one woman’s anger makes it play as the preeminent Cronenberg from this period, beautifully doing justice to the director’s sense of the delicate bond between the cerebral and the physical. It is perhaps Cronenberg’s obsession with violations and destroying this barrier between the body and the soul that make his films so unyielding in their disturbances–as with the fetishistic tape in Videodrome, his films’ unique ability to repulse is linked very much to one’s fascination with their own physical selves. The Brood is also a great breakup movie–the climax, which plays like Village of the Damned in the drama of trying to “hide” ones emotions from the villain, is not so much a championing of repression as a damning insistence that to be in a relationship is to be withdrawn and deceitful.



Eastern Promises (2007)
May 25, 2011, 4:50 am
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Director: David Cronenberg

In his two latest pictures – A History of Violence and Eastern Promises – many have suggested that Cronenberg has completely reinvented himself. What is particularly fascinating about both of the films upon further study, however, is in examining just how fitting they are within his oeuvre when considering several of his defining interests. For example, Cronenberg’s history with sexual imagery manifests itself in the sex sequences of A History of Violence, and similarly one can see his fondness for bodily horror in the famous sauna sequence of Eastern Promises. Sexuality, too, plays a big role in the latter film, but not necessarily between Watts and Mortensen. A basic reading of the film might suggest that Vincent Cassell’s character is a closeted homosexual, and homoeroticism is also present in the ritual tattooing sequence. Though homosexuality is addressed in the film as being unacceptable within the Russian gang, ironically it appears as though that the gang’s bonds directly involve their celebration and uniting of naked flesh.



eXistenZ (1999)
April 12, 2011, 11:32 pm
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Director: David Cronenberg

Puzzle films like eXistenZ – with its convoluted narrative threads and the pleasure it derives in attempting to fool the audience at every turn – are often unimaginative in their devotion to pulling the rug out from underneath the viewers at the expense of entertainment and logic. Cronenberg’s effort, on the other hand, is blissfully playful, satirizing the brainwashing effects of the gaming world while fully imagining its dreamworld. A master of evading censorship through utilizing bluntly sexual imagery in a seemingly asexual context, Cronenberg delights in subjecting the audience to vulgar images of “bio-ports”, often lubed prior to insertion of an umbilical cord (Jude Law’s character is described as having “penetration phobia”). While the performances are largely lackluster – Law, as the unlikely hero, has an almost unlistenable American accent – Cronenberg’s world is so compellingly surreal that many of the film’s shortcomings are forgiven.