Monday 7 July 2014

Movie Review: The Fly (1986)

A gory science-gone-wrong horror film, The Fly is a dark and playful shocker from director David Cronenberg, with a small cast, a simple premise, and thoroughly disgusting special effects.

Science journalist Veronica "Ronnie" Quaife (Geena Davis) meets nerdy inventor Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), and he insists on showing her his latest contraption at his warehouse home: two large connected teleportation pods controlled by a computer terminal. An object placed in one pod can be disintegrated and molecularly recreated in the second pod. Initially Seth's device works only on inanimate objects, and an attempt to teleport a baboon fails miserably. But after Ronnie and Seth start an intense physical relationship, Seth improves the software and the pods become capable of transporting living organisms.

When Seth suspects Ronnie of rekindling a relationship with her boss and former boyfriend Stathis (John Getz), he sinks into a depression and launches the ultimate experiment: teleporting himself. The process seems to work, but unbeknown to Seth, a fly was in the pod with him during the teleportation. Soon, Seth starts to experience weird physical and emotional transformations.

A loose remake of the 1958 film based on a George Langelaan short story, The Fly is horror at the personal level. The controlled cast, consisting of just the three main characters, allows The Fly to quickly zoom into an intimate, throbbing scale. Ronnie and Seth are quickly swept into a sex-drenched romance, and the intensity of the experience unleashes Seth's creativity to the breakthrough that allows him to program the genetic recreation of flesh and life. The triangle of sex, science, and dangerous limits is central to many of Cronenberg's early works, and here he perfects it.

Once on the other side of his personal teleportation, Seth is initially an enhanced version of himself, his cells rejuvenated, his libido out of control, perhaps influenced by an insect's short life and need to procreate rapidly. But then the catastrophic consequences of a small fly in the pod (literally a bug in his system) become apparent, and Seth's transformational journey continues towards a hideous conclusion. He hangs on to a semblance of humanity for a long time, but in a desperate attempt to reverse his deterioration, he also grows ever more selfish, willing to sacrifice anyone to try and save himself.

By maintaining Seth's humanity while trapping him in a decaying body, Cronenberg both amplifies the horror and cleverly adds humour while exploring the pure lust for life. When Seth becomes self-aware of his predicament, he finds opportunities for glib comments while simultaneously wallowing in the loathsome habits of a large arthropod and trying to compute a way back to normalcy.

The makeup effects are a work of art, and were rewarded with the Academy Award. As Seth gradually suffers through his backwards evolution in the second half of the film, the pre-digital effects are slimy, gooey and flamboyantly repugnant. Away from the gore Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis make an attractive (at least in the first part of the film) couple as they translate their off-screen relationship into on-screen sizzle. Goldblum is dorky athleticism, Davis is curious journalism, and together they create a convincing passion that has to sustain them through the horror that befalls Seth.

Intense and morbid, The Fly buzzes into brilliancy.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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