Technically, I’ve seen a David Cronenberg film before (eXistenZ, roughly a billion years ago—I have almost no memory of it), but I haven’t really seen any of the classic 80’s horror that he’s known for. (Or, okay. Maybe The Dead Zone? But also maybe not because I mostly just remember the ending.) Horror Bingo felt like a prime opportunity to correct this egregious oversight, and so for the very first time, I watched The Fly.
. . . holy shit, this is where that line comes from?
Director: David Cronenberg
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Streaming Service: HBO Max
Parts of this movie work extremely well for me. Other parts . . . less so.
What does work for me 110% is the body horror and gore. The monster makeup in The Fly looks pretty great, especially for 1986, and I’m not at all surprised that it took home an Oscar. There’s so much creepy shit to highlight here, like, teeth and fingernails? Classic horror, no notes. Jeff Goldblum’s ear falling off? Absolutely fantastic. That poor goddamn baboon? JFC. (Also seriously, where is Seth finding these baboons? I mean, not to value one animal’s life over another, but don’t you traditionally begin with, like, mice?) The acid vomit that melts Schmuck Hero’s hand and foot? A+ work, acid vomit; it’s only unfortunate you couldn’t melt even more flesh away. I especially love the final mutated fly form that emerges after Ronnie pulls off Seth’s jaw. That shit is awesome.
The acting is solid, too, like I don’t always buy our characters’ choices (more on that shortly), but I enjoy Geena Davis’s performance, and I adore Jeff Goldblum’s insect like twitches. I also like a lot of the dark humor. The name “Brundlefly” alone . . . I would absolutely name a pet Brundlefly, and then have only myself to blame when it eats me, but whatever. And lines like “the Brundle Museum of Natural History” and “the world will want to know that” and “how does Brundlefly eat?” All great stuff.
What doesn’t work for me nearly as well, however, is the tragic love story/love triangle. Partly, this is because of how quickly Ronnie and Seth get together because, wow, I don’t buy it. Like, far be it from me to disparage the awkward charms of Jeff Goldblum, but to recap their meet cute: Ronnie interviews Seth at some big party (Seth definitely gives off weird vibes), agrees to drive with him to his creepy warehouse lab in the middle of the night (absolutely not), doesn’t immediately leave when Seth abruptly and bizarrely begins playing piano while making “can’t let you leave here alive” jokes (seriously, wtf), and then gives him her stocking, sexily, for the experiment that he still hasn’t bothered to explain (because Ronnie doesn’t wear jewelry, and it apparently doesn’t occur to her to even glance through her purse for something else). Friends, when I tell you how obvious it is that a man wrote this script . . .
Seth objects to Ronnie writing a story about his experiment. (Because it isn’t ready yet—which, like, I get that he’s all about human teleportation, but FFS, being able to instantly transport inanimate objects around would also change the world, like, food, medicine, weapons, your fucking furniture whenever you move—the possibilities are endless). When Seth sees her next, they go on a cheeseburger date, i.e, they eat fast food while he offers up a business proposition. This scene, I don’t have any problems with; it’s a mutually beneficial deal for both parties. However, in their next scene, Seth accidentally turns a baboon inside out, and apparently the combination of this failure, his despondency, and his Einstein-inspired wardrobe are enough for Ronnie to suddenly decide it’s time to have sex. Like, what? Why? I honestly wondered if Ronnie was sleeping with Seth to, er, boost his spirits and get him back in the game, so she could get on writing her book—but no, I guess they’re just in love now? Bah.
It’s just all so fast, and despite the fact that Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis were a real life couple at the time, I don’t think they have nearly enough onscreen chemistry to setup this romance so quickly, particularly because it’s a tragic romance. Considering this tragedy is at the very heart of the story, I honestly think it would play better if Ronnie and Seth were an established couple from the start. I also sorta wish Seth had rushed the experiment for better reasons than “drunk and jealous,” although that’s okay; I just tend to find jealousy boring as a motivator. And I’m not crazy about the love triangle, either, because Stathis Borans (John Getz), AKA Ronnie’s ex, AKA Schmuck Hero, is, well, a schmuck. Getz is fine in the role (schmuck is kind of John Getz’s whole brand), but the fact that Ronnie goes back to him for help—Stathis, the jealous dude who threatens to fuck with her career and sneaks into her apartment, taking a shower like a creeper and refusing to return his old house key, insisting that Ronnie subconsciously wants him to move back in—like, what the fuck. I get this dude is a big deal scientist, but Ronnie is still a science writer, yes? Does she not have contacts she could reach out to? Does she not have friends to turn to for emotional support?
And while I actually kinda love the idea of rivals/enemies surviving a horror movie together . . . come on, we’re really gonna make this guy the hero? This guy? The only good thing I can say about all this is that at least Ronnie and Stathis don’t actually get together, although I know that alternate ending was shot. Also, holy shit, I just read about the sequel, and nope, absolutely not. Ronnie didn’t get the abortion? What, getting abducted and seeing Seth’s ultimate monster form made her think, “You know, having this baby sounds like a good idea, actually?” They gave Ronnie a bad case of Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome and killed her off in childbirth?
I mean, that’s not a complaint with this movie. I’m just saying. Fuck that noise.