‘The Fly’ (1986) 600 Word DVD Review

June 28, 2009 § Leave a comment

Score: 4 out of 5

The Fly follows on from Cronenberg’s Scanners (my review here), combining two of his all-time favourite subjects: body-horror and science fiction. Inspired by George Langelaan’s classic short story, it casts Jeff Goldblum in the role of Seth Brundle, a twitchy “mad” scientist who has built the world’s first teleportation device. Veronica Quaife, played by Geena Davis, is the hot-shot journalist looking for the next big scientific breakthrough. Before long they’re romantically involved, and, together, they embark on a very weird and very disturbing voyage of discovery.

Following a few unsuccessful experiments – with some very gory and unfortunate results, I might add – Brundle eventually makes his pair of “Telepod” devices work with a human subject. Or, so he thinks… On one ill-fated evening a rather intoxicated Brundle casts aside all doubt and tests the machine on himself. He comes out the other side seemingly unharmed and with a renewed lust for life. At first, Quaife is delighted with Brundle’s new-found, boundless, irrepressible energy, but as he starts behaving more and more erratically she becomes concerned – did something go wrong during transit?

It did. Brundle wasn’t the only one in that pod when it transported him: a fly slipped inside before the door closed shut, setting off a series of events so abominable as to set teeth on edge, fray nerves and send chills creeping up your spine.

“Be afraid”? Oh, no, “Be very afraid.”

Like Scanners, The Fly is a high concept, kind of B-grade type movie, but it’s a much more polished piece of work – more well-balanced, better paced and more refined than Cronenberg’s earlier work. The theme of metamorphosis, of man turning into beast or insect, can be a sophisticated one and has famously been explored in the work of Franz Kafka.

The script, despite some melodramatic overtones, allows both Brundle and Quaife to react against what’s going on around them and the abhorrent situation they’ve been placed in. While Davis – a mess of confounding emotions, of revulsion and warmth – again shows what a strong actress she is and provides ample support, it really is Goldblum’s show, and his transformation from man to monster is nothing short of spectacular, both in terms of his acting and with regards to the special effects.

While The Fly also feels a more restrained piece of work compared to Scanners, Cronenberg hasn’t lost his touch when it comes to creeping the hell out of the audience. He keeps everything tense and loaded with a sense of unpredictability; while he keeps to more subtle techniques throughout the film to convey the horror and thrill behind Bundle’s devolution (or evolution, maybe?) he waits right until the end to deliver the money shot, giving the audience plenty to squirm over. It’s a strong effort, an intriguing and entertaining and delectably disgusting effort from Cronenberg, but I’m not sure he could have done it so well without Howard Shore’s ominous score, which fundamentally contributes to the atmosphere of nervous, excited tension.

It’s an impeccably crafted piece of work with no real flaws I can pick up on. For horror fans it has to be required watching, and it’s not just a horror movie; it’s also a film with a surprising amount of pathos and intelligence about it. I think it’s pretty extraordinary that a genre which frequently delves into the vulgarity of existence manages to display real humanity, even through all the blood, guts and brains. The best horror isn’t sloppy; it’s calculated. And The Fly is a good example of a very well constructed movie.

(596 words.)

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