Reviews: Riveting thriller ‘Watcher’ delivers while ‘Crimes of the Future’ falls short

This is bound to be the most haunting weekend of new releases at theaters this side of October with director David Cronenberg’s latest feature “Crimes of the Future” opening today along with the a psychological thriller “Watcher,” by director Chloe Okuno.

Both of these movies are creepy, and it’s the kind of creep that sticks with you after the movies are over. I’m not sure I’d suggest them as a double-feature as I consumed them Thursday, but on some level, both are worthy of a horror fans’ attention.

I have to admit that it’s good I had to write this review before going to bed. I’m not sure I could have easily fallen asleep with my mind working through the nightmarish qualities of the films.

Crimes of the Future

Viggo Mortensen, Kristen Stewart, and Léa Seydoux in Crimes of the Future / Bell Media

Cronenberg is a master of thoughtful mayhem, and body horror is his favorite genre. His movies aren’t for everyone. I’m not so sure they are for me?

Last week at The Cannes Film Festival, “Crimes of the Future” received a standing ovation according to reports, at least from those who elected to stay for the whole film. The same reports mentioned that a considerable amount of patrons exited the theater because of the graphic and grotesque nature of the film.

This film from the director of uncomfortably icky flicks like “Videodrome,” “The Fly,” “Dead Ringers,” and “Crash” continues to push the boundaries of horror films and perhaps decency with this convoluted and somewhat club-fisted movie that doesn’t quite trust its audience to get its underlying message, which ultimately makes the film more convoluted than clear.

The film is a grotesque affront to comfort and kindness as the movie’s version of the near future has humans so desensitized to pain that self-mutilation has not only become a hobby or a sport but also a vocation. For instance, surgeries are public events where fans can watch the surgeons do their bloody work on their human objects of art.

A coughing, hacking, and gagging Viggo Mortensen portrays a performance artist, whose assistant Caprice (Lea Seydoux) harvests odd and awful tumors from his body while “art connoisseurs” look on from a comfortable distance. Caprice operates on him using remote scalpels that she controls from a distance. She enjoys her gruesome work just a bit too much.

Kristen Stewart portrays Timlin, a government official who seeks to catalogue Saul’s public mutilations and mutations, but in truth, she really just has a kinky fascination with the man and his weird ways. Of course, jealously brews in a number of ways.

The movie is not for the squeamish. I’m not exactly sure who the movie is for? I found it oddly compelling, maybe because I wondered where it might go next. Unfortunately that road came to no satisfying destination.

The film isn’t as nuanced as Cronenberg’s best work, although it is just as nightmarish. Certainly, the movie was crafted as social commentary on the harshness and crass nature of our current society, but a more lucid or direct message alluded me.

To me the best reason to see the film is to see what all the controversy is about. That might not be a compelling enough reason to sit through this torture piece or should I say piece of torture.

(R) 1 hr. 37 min.
Grade: D


Maika Monroe in Watcher / Lost City

“Watcher” is certainly a more straight-forward film and traditional female-in-jeopardy” story than “Crimes of the Future,” which might seem a bit concerning to some, but Okuno ultimately handles the film’s condescension craftily as marginalized heroine Julia (Maika Monroe) proves to be the only one who knows what’s up all along.

Julia, an actress, finds herself in an almost Hitchcockian predicament as a fish-out-of water American, who moved to to Bucharest, Hungary with her newlywed husband Francis (Karl Glusman) for his marketing job. Unable to speak the language, she feels cut off from the world and frightened as reports of a serial killer begin to emerge.

Julia has the preternatural feeling that she is being watched, and while Francis thinks she’s experiencing some sort of paranoia, Julia actually does detect a silhouetted person watching her through the window of an adjacent apartment building, and later a man following her as she shops.

Julia becomes more and more frustrated as Francis condescends to her and even makes fun of her to his work associates, and all along the world seems to close in on Julia with excellent claustrophobia-inducing cinematography by Benjamin Kirk Nielsen.

Spurred on by her new friend Irina (Madalina Anea), Julia turns the table on her silhouetted lurker and become the watcher herself before the film dovetails into a thrilling and crowd-pleasing third act.

The movie boasts terrific style and several surprises, and unliked the Cronenberg movie provides a satisfying conclusion that’s well earned.

(R) 1 hr. 35 min.
Grade: B

  New in Local Theaters

Watcher (watch trailer) / (R) 1 hr. 35 Min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle

Crimes of the Future (watch trailer) / (R) 1 hr. 37 min. / Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle

Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story (watch trailer) / (PG-13) 1 hr. 34 min. / AMC Fiesta Square

Major (watch trailer) / (NR) 2 hr. 32 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Pinnacle

Vikram (watch trailer) / (NR) 2 hr. 53 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Pinnacle

Classic Corner – Wizard of Oz

Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, and Jack Haley in The Wizard of Oz / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

I love old movies, but few films from the golden age of Hollywood could open up today and captivate an audience like it did upon its premier.

Sensibilities and expectations are just too different.

However one film that might stand a good chance of accomplishing that feat is MGM’s 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz.”

It truly is a timeless piece of filmmaking that still has the power to enchant children and adults more than 80 years later.

In celebration of what would be star Judy Garland’s 100th birthday, the Malco Razorback in conjunction with Fathom Events will host two special screenings of the all-time classic at 3 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Monday.

Maybe it’s because the bulk of the film is set in the fantasyland of Oz, which still shines as bright in all its Technicolor glory as any modern-day CGI setting.

Maybe it’s because talent is talent no matter the time period. Garland (Dorthy Gale) would have just as much wattage today as she did in her hey day.

Though there are modern versions of the tune “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that are quite pleasing, Garland’s cut is the one all others will always be judged against.

There is no maybe about Margaret Hamilton’s performance as the Wicked Witch of the West and Almira Gulch. She’s still gives me shivers of delightful fright when she screeches, “I’ll get you my pretties!” And her blue-hued flying monkeys are straight out of a nightmare.

The film, directed by Victor Flemming and based on the works of Frank L. Baum, once was an annual springtime viewing tradition for many families, airing on CBS each spring from 1956 well into the 1980s, but the advent of home video robbed the movie of that special once-a-year designation.

For decades the movie has been played and enjoyed by fans almost on demand, and that convenience does make the movie seem a little less special, that is, until you actually sit down to watch as the magic fills the screen again.

If you’ve never had the chance to see the film on the big screen, it’s a grand experience, especially if you have young ones who have not yet experienced one of the great cinematic triumphs in Hollywood history.