It’s fitting that David Cronenberg’s fantastically goopy remake of 50’s creature feature contains a central, gradual metamorphosis of a misunderstood genius – after all, The Fly was the exact moment Cronenberg’s talent for flesh corrupting body horror met his ever maturing directorial style which made him the indie heavyweight he is today. The movie stuffs these two aspects of his filmmaking attributes into a telepod, pushes a button and fuses them into what is arguably the Canadian auteur’s most accessible work; a stripped back sci-fi/horror that gives you all the horrific sights you’d expect from the man that disgorged Videodrome into the world, yet still remains one of the rawest, most relatable relationship stories I’ve ever seen.
While scouring a press event for a story, science journalist Veronica Quaife stumbles upon Seth Brundle, a gawky yet charming scientist who convinces her to come back to his place to show her something that will “uh… change the world, uh… as we know it”. While this does actually double as a chat up line, the overexcited Seth is totally on the verge of successfully cracking teleportation but still has issues transporting biological organisms without having the inconvenient result of having them appear at the other end inside-out. Agreeing to document his journey, Veronica and Seth soon fall into a relationship, something that stirs up the ire in her shitty, obsessive, ex-boyfriend editor (who these days would barely escape the #metoo movement) and while Veronica goes out to do damage control, Seth decides to teleport himself in a fit of drunken jealousy.
Emerging from the telepod apparently refreshed, Seth relishes the effect that having his atoms ripped apart and put back together seems to have on the human body – but there’s a big-ass cloud on the horizon and after his euphoric mania turns to paranoia, he drives vernoica away in favour of picking up skanks in a local dive while snapping arms of of the local roustabouts during not so friendly arm wrestling contests.
The kicker is that during his initial teleportation, a housefly got into the telepod and was fused directly into Seth’s DNA which is now furiously rewriting itself at the furious pace of a speed-typer hooked up to a Red Bull drip. As he gradually starts to become something else and his body breaks down with gruesome results, Seth tries to reconnect with Veronica before it’s too late, but as his literal inner-fly rises to the surface he may have figured a way to restore his degrading DNA before the transformation is complete. However, a torn Veronica has a revelation that may change everything, something that the inhuman “Brundle-fly” may take horrible advantage of.
When thinking of Cronenberg’s version of The Fly, it’s easy to primarily think of the Oscar winning effects that bore their way into your psyche with all the urgency of a detachable fingernail, but putting all the body horror to one side for the moment (oh, don’t worry, we’re coming back to it), The Fly is actually a spectacular two-hander about the many trials a relationship has to weather. If you were to strip out all the teleporation and twisted limbs, you have a movie that hits the points of a turbulent pairing just as well as a Woody Allen movie – only with more acidic vomit.
Trying to absorb such brutal body blows as anxiety about a persistent ex, addiction and infidelity, Seth and Veronica’s doomed romance finally buckles when the film uses Seth’s condition as a glaring metaphor for illness and disease such as AIDS, cancer or a tumour that steadily ravages the body of our male lead until even the voice recognition setting on his computer has trouble recognizing him. In its later stages, the film even flirts with the moral implications of aborting the unborn child of a “deformed” man before even waiting to see if the child itself will be afflicted due to the mounting fear that presence of the fetus itself may be harmful.
It’s heavy stuff, beautifully played and I truly believe both Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis have never been better. In fact their hugely endearing, gawky chemistry worked so well, the fact that they were actually dating at the time shouldn’t come as much of a surprise (they were married the year after) and the fact that the rest of the cast is minimal adds to that feeling that your world contracts around a person when you start dating someone new.
Cronenberg provides a script somehow full of relatable moments that entertainingly butts heads with a long string of unforgettable, freaky images to provide a story with virtually no fat on it at all and it’s to the director’s credit that the stunning visuals aren’t able to overturn the story as well as it overturns stomachs on its way to its abrupt, genuinely heart wrenching ending.
So, let’s talk about those visuals now and how the union of Cronenberg and Chris (Gremlins) Walas manage to sway the Academy into honouring the film with a golden statue despite it featuring such horrors as the effects of fly vomit on the human body, a full blown transformation sequence and the infamous dick-in-a-jar. Walas’ make ups detailing Brundle’s on-going genetic breakdown are exemplary and Goldblum wears them damn well, expanding on his trademark twitches and tics to sell the effects for all they’re worth despite being buried alive under a ton of latex and rubber.
The fact you can still feel for the guy after its revealed that he can only by breaking down his grub by spewing on it is a glowing testament to all involved. While Brundle’s final incarnation looks a tad puppet-y by todays standards, it’s still a bitchin’ looking creature and it’s a million miles from the rather quaint “head and hand” transformation from the original movie.
One of the greatest sci-fi horrors ever made, one of the greatest remakes ever made and easily my favourite Cronenberg movie of the man’s entire career, The Fly stands as a towering monument to everyone involved (even Howard Shore, Cronenberg’s resident composer, pulls out the extra stops) and is a magnificent reason to be impressed, be very impressed.