By Mark Wilkinson
"I'm an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it."
A remake/re-envisioning of the 1958 film of the same name. This time around through the twisted mind's eye of David Cronenberg. The Fly is essentially a two-handed tragic romance, between the brilliant scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldlbum) and journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis). When he asks her back to his lab to show her his latest project--teleportation--she is immediately drawn to the eccentric genius, as they begin a budding romance. One night, an intoxicated and jealous Seth, decides to become the first human to test out his Telepods. The teleportation is a success; however, the audience is shown that a regular house fly got into the Telepod with him. Seth is now becoming...Brundlefly.
While this is probably the most commercial of David Cronenberg’s films, that doesn’t stop it from being his greatest. It's effervescent with ideas. Much like Brundle when he first comes out the teleporter, you can sense Cronenberg's energy - his need for telling this story. The Fly is perfectly suited for the king of body-horror, as he brings out all the stops for this masterpiece of gross-out cinema. What’s more important than the grotesque effects, however, is the focus on strong characters and their evolution throughout the story, which has always been Cronenberg’s real strong-suit. Howard Shore’s score lifts the film to transcendent heights, giving the film an operatic feeling, truly befitting its tragic tale of a man crushed by his own hubris. Cronenberg fully delivers with The Fly, the places he takes it to are so deep, so dark and so painfully human, that it still feels so real and kicks like a mule.
Cronenberg has always been criticized for being rather misogynistic. This is a claim that I’ve never agreed with. However, he acknowledges his reputation and makes a bold decision to have the movie be told from Davis's character perspective, not Goldblum's. This is not just a story about misunderstood male genius, but simply the human wish to be more than we are. Geena Davis is remarkable as our heroine Ronnie. She puts in such a commanding performance, bringing great emotional range and complexity to her character who maintains strong, sensitive and independent throughout the film, with the last 20 minutes or so giving her great opportunities to really express the tragedy of their situation through some fantastically depressing and traumatized acting. Goldblum here is also off the scale. Cronenberg wrenches this man's soul out into the camera. It's uninhibited, it's lunatic, and also involves being covered in prosthetics for a good proportion of screen time. Every line, hand gesture and eyeroll is vintage Goldblum, yet suits the character perfectly. Goldblum truly sells the slow and tragic transformation he goes through as the evolution of the creature grows throughout the film. Until the moment that they slough off in bursts of milky puss, Brundle’s eyes are always glinting brightly behind his gnarled diseased flesh. That ever-present humanity throughout his nightmarish metamorphosis is one of the many aspects that make The Fly such a tragic film.
The auteur gives flesh, blood and literal presence to the slow and insidious decomposition of our souls, like a cancerous disease that gradually eats away at our bodies and minds. Science may temporarily endow us with expanded strength and stamina, but at the end of the day, everyone will one day be buried six feet under. No one will recognize you when you're rotting. A man who creates an insect-monster of himself is a perfect metaphor for this, as well as the age-old effort of messing with forbidden science. It’s also perfect material for the horror genre. It visualizes our finite existence in such goopy, molecular terms, but also vividly fuses the cerebral with the visceral in ways that few horror films ever thoughtfully balance. This is Cronenberg firing on all cylinders, with great casting, beautiful cinematography and lighting, fantastic set design and top-notch practical effects.
The effects and visuals in this movie are just incredible. Much like Brundle and the fly, the make-up seems to fuse with Goldblum for this performance. The slowly growing stages of his transformation are subtle at first, but still just as off-putting and disgusting as the ones towards the end when he's in full fly mode and you really FEEL Ronnie's horror at seeing this because, even though it's now just a puppet on screen, you 100% believe this is still Seth. You've seen him gradually turn into this monstrous creature before your very eyes - which, ultimately, is the magic of horror films. And The Fly pulls that trick perfectly. The gory practical effects never feel exploitative or out of place, only serving to enhance the emotional resonance and sadness of the story. The Fly tells its story visually rather than verbally in all the right ways, and the film around those special effects gives them real, tragic life. Simple. Effective. Brutal.
The Fly is a gooey masterpiece of disgust and decay. It is the epitome of the term ‘body-horror’, an oozy and grotesque fairytale that drips with disease and spectacular gore. Behind all the vomit, slime, crumbling bodies, and hideous fly mutations, Cronenberg offers a harrowing meditation on what coming to terms with our mortality looks and feels like. This is a story about dying, about becoming other. It's about the horror of metamorphosis, how our bodies and minds slowly decay over time, and how age betrays us till we cease to look recognizable. It's also about confronting the death of someone close to you, and the grief and agony that unfolds there. Cronenberg's ability to imagine the biological implications of death in such repulsive visual language works as a complimentary magic trick to how he then disguises the entire premise as mad scientist horror fare. Not only does this movie stand alongside John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) as one of the best remakes ever made. This is one of the best horror movies ever put to screen.
Be afraid, be very afraid.