Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Fly


  There's a scene in this lurid, gross-out, sci-fi tale in which Jeff Goldblum's character- Seth Brundle, has discovered he can wall-crawl. Without the heroic pomp and circumstance a movie like Spider-Man would have, all we see is a scared man who's turning into something horrifying. But, my point is specifically about the wall-crawling. This movie was made in the era before CGI became the go-to medium for special effects. When Seth is crawling around on the ceiling, I was looking for wires or bolted down furniture- tell tale signs of an upside down set, that would obviously give him the illusion of being on the ceiling. Except, he starts to descend... down the wall, and seamlessly starts walking across the floor. The effect is so good, I forgot for a second I was looking at an effect.

  Special effects like this are at the heart of The Fly, and sometimes they're almost too good. I was so enamored with this seamless and impressively effective trick, that I kinda lost sight of the heart of the scene. Though this problem is immensely amplified with computer effects. See, the practicality of the wall-crawl effect looks so damn good, it's impossible to see the trick. Whereas with computer effects, there's always that feeling that what you're looking at is not real. No matter how good CGI is right now, it'll be better in ten years and your movie will be full of outdated effects faster than you can say The Mummy Returns. The Fly doesn't have that problem. It's problem is of an entirely different nature.

  You could say I'm overanalyzing it, or that I'm just looking for flaws, but there's a particularly gruesome shot at the end where (spoilers) Seth's Girlfriend is forced to shoot him because he's become a hideously deformed monster with no trace of humanity anywhere to be found. She's sobbing, bawling, the music is intense, she fires the shotgun- and immediately we cut to see his head explode in slow motion. This little gory tidbit looked fantastic to a gorehound/practical effects nut like me, but it undercut the emotional intensity of the scene. Which made me realize, the whole movie is like this. It's so hellbent on showing you how hideous and gross Seth's transformation into this giant man-fly is, that it's far too easy to get hung up on the icky bits and overlook how devastatingly tragic the whole thing is.

  At one point, Brundlefly takes the opportunity to reference a bit of Kafka, "I'm saying I'm an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it, but now that dream is over and the insect is awake," It's undeniably one of the most emotional moments in the movie, and we could've used more like it. The Fly is horrifying because of it's graphic gore effects, the psychological horror of losing all touch with one's own humanity is there- but it's overshadowed by explicit nastiness. It's a delicate balancing act that I'm afraid leans too far to one side, for me at least. I still think the movie is great, and that it's horrifying and disturbing no matter how you slice it... but...

  Gore effects are exploitative by nature. They have little to do with actually scaring someone for the most part. It's gross, not scary. It's a cheap and quick way to make people uncomfortable. Humans have a natural knee jerk reaction to seeing blood because hey, that's supposed to be inside our body- not outside. But, to really scare someone you need tension, suspense, dread, fear, and if you have a disturbing concept you can drill into their heads- all the better. The Fly has all of that stuff, but it only ever takes center stage during the middle of the movie. The beginning of The Fly is all about the budding romance between Seth and Veronica, the middle is about him discovering the changes to his body. The last third of the movie is the real splatterfest, but instead of being scary, for the most part it's just exceptionally icky.

  Body parts getting melted, acid vomit, a man-fly creature, and lurid monstrous deformities are just some of the delightfully exploitative ingredients of the last act, and while I love all that stuff in a movie, consider for a second the last act of Alien. Ripley is alone on the Nostromo with a vicious creature. It's arguably the most blood-free section of the movie, and yet, the scariest. The Fly's true scariness isn't in how realistic it's melting limbs look- but instead it's in how we see Seth lose his humanity. How he clings on to it right up until his insect half takes over completely. It's horribly sad and it really affected me this time around, but the continual scenes of him losing body parts and transforming could've been handled in a less exploitative way.

  Maybe I'm missing the point of the graphic shock effects employed here, but to me, the heart of the story was so emotional and scary that the movie almost loses something by continually focusing on it's gory bits in such a coldly matter-of-fact way, like a porno displays sex. Sure, director David Cronenberg knew what he was doing, and whether you're into the more character driven side of things, or you've come for the world class effects, you won't be disappointed either way. The Fly is a masterclass effort in both categories. It does so much with surprisingly little, and manages to be so effective when all is said and done.

  Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis have excellent chemistry, and we feel for them both. They fall for each other in a natural and genuine way, knowing that their romance is going to end in blood, tears, and a bio-molecular abomination is just devastating. The movie has a great music score, some great cinematography, and great special effects. It's hard to review having seen it well more than a handful of times already, and even now all I can say is that the graphic nature of it's icky bits is at odds with it's more disturbingly introspective and thoughtful moments.

  Maybe it's balance is a bit off, but that doesn't stop it from being fantastic. I'm mainly just picking nits, because this is how remakes should be done. I loved it. It's both gruesome and heartbreaking. It's a sad story about mad science and an ill-fated romance. The Fly never fails to turn my stomach, and then rip my heart out. I've got little else to say about this eccentric little frightfest except that I consider it a true classic of the genre and one of Cronenberg's best.

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