Brandon Cronenberg is back with yet another instant classic for the body horror genre. His newest release is centered around a struggling writer getting tangled with a group of sadistic tourists on a resort getaway; and it features tons of body doubles, sex and murder, making this a film that’s as bold as it is ambitious. While many may say its politics are ambiguous, I’d argue the ending ultimately points to capitalism's effects on the way we connect with ourselves and each other. It also highlights the exploitative nature of the tourist industry, showing how locals are degraded, sometimes even killed, for the benefit of mostly-white foreigners. Having named this one of my most anticipated films of 2022, I couldn’t be happier to have finally seen it in theaters a whole year later, especially when the trailer looked so amazingly chaotic!
Following a drunk driving accident resulting in a dead local farmer, James learns he can pay for a cloned body double and get out of a death sentence. Alexander Skarsgård plays this part phenomenally: panicked, pathetic, he couldn’t be readier to pay the bribe. Seeing himself as a failure and reliant on his girlfriend, Em, for money, James is easily seduced by the power of being able to pay his way out of crimes. Along with a group of wealthy resort guests, he quickly spirals down a road of murder and corruption. Mia Goth is a kind of ringleader for the group, bringing Gabi to life with the intense commitment and wild ferocity that made Pearl (2022) one of my all-time favorite horror films. I'd also be remiss to not mention Cleopatra Coleman as Em, who was a great voice of reason throughout the movie, and one of its more interesting characters. These actors took big risks in this film, and it all paid off. Their captivating roles place even more energy into the film’s hyper-stylized visuals.
The bold approach of Cronenberg’s cinematographer, Karim Hussain, often reflects themes present in the film. A rolling crane/drone shot in the opening scenes hints at the twisted horrors that lie just beneath the resort’s surface. There's also a lot negative space in the shot composition, making the characters' alienation that much more visible, much like an Edward Hopper painting. Cronenberg’s team does a great job of using this visual language to place viewers in James’ shoes throughout the movie; quick cuts help create a heart racing pace, as though we’re living through the horror beside him. During an orgy scene, slick camerawork is combined with a disorienting filter, phenomenal editing and striking flares of color to heighten audience immersion. This level of technical finesse is even present in the script.
While the rich guests might not face the comeuppance audiences hope for, I think James’ journey is a very psychological and compelling approach to discussing themes of gender and wealth without being heavy handed. It’s easy to say ‘rich people are assholes who get away with whatever they want.’ Instead of making such obvious points, the politics of Cronenberg’s movie perhaps become more accessible when filtered through discussions of gender. Feeling emasculated by his wife’s wealth, James tries to take back some dignity by using her money to exercise power through violence, which ultimately ends with him going nowhere, still having to confront himself. The final scene, where everyone boards the bus to go back home, talking about their boring lives, saying they look forward to seeing each other next year, hints at an uncomfortable truth: no amount of money will make these people happy with their existence, because they all have much deeper problems of identity, happiness and human connection. This speaks to the way capitalism has altered not just the way these wealthy people interact with the locals and resort staff, but with each other, and even themselves.
Engaging with themes of violence, gender, identity, class and neocolonialism, Cronenberg smartly navigates the idea of rich tourists getting away with murder. Some might critique the ending as being nihilistic, but I think James’ journey creates a logic within the narrative that ultimately speaks to how no one is safe from the ever-expanding reach of capitalism. It affects the poor, but it also affects the rich, stunting them emotionally and psychologically. Watching this, we're all made to think about how we're part of this system. "It's really so disgusting how you could just sit there and watch," says Em after James' clone is executed. Watching this scene, and James' downfall, makes us uncomfortably complicit, as we all are to varying degrees. It’s a wildly thought-provoking piece of sci-fi horror that’s guaranteed to stick with viewers long after they leave the theater. With politics as bold as its visuals, this will likely be one of my favorite watches this year. Catch it in theaters while you can!