This one comes to us from writer/director Brandon Cronenberg; son of David Cronenberg, the undisputed king of visceral horror, holding such titles under his belt as 'The Fly', 'Scanners', 'eXistenZ' and 'Naked Lunch' just to name a few. With that comes the knowledge that this is probably going to be a weird and messed up kind of movie with that Cronenberg name, and sure enough, this doesn't fail in its delivery. And while there's a fair share of body horror, most of the horror here is psychological. It's good for those seeking the next "WTF did I just watch?" title.
Taking place in the bizarre seaside country of Li Tolqa (fictional), writer James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) and his wife, Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are enjoying a getaway, but do face a few marital problems during their stay. One night, Gabi Bauer (Mia Goth), a fan of James' work, invites the couple to hang out with her and her husband, Alban (Jalil Lespert). Despite fair warnings to stay on the resort in such a place, the four eventually travel the countryside and have a good time (some more than others). However, on their way back, James ends up hitting a local with the car, killing him. Being in a rather corrupt country, this essentially means facing execution.
The next day, James is arrested and sentenced to death, which, in this country, means the first-born son of the victim gets to carry out the sentence. As luck would have it, though, James married into money and is able to afford a certain procedure that will allow him to live. Said procedure involves paying to have a clone made of yourself to be executed instead, while you get to live on. And this is where the movie takes a crazy turn. James pays for the procedure and, along with Em, actually sits to watch the execution. But while Em is understandably horrified by the spectacle, James is kind of into it, presumably realizing the power he's been given.
While Em is convinced to go back to America, James extends his stay by a week and hangs out with Gabi and Alban a little more. Here is where James and Gabi meet a group of similar tourists who have undergone the same procedure. Without going into spoiler territory, things really take off from here, as the group has this realization of invincibility, as long as they can keep substituting clones for their crimes. Soon, they go after the very people who sentenced them in the first place with thoughts of revenge. But certain questions come into play with all of this, such as obvious morality, but also questioning whether one of these death-row-worthy crimes ever lead to the death of the original person, knowing the clones still retain memories.
It should probably be noted that I'm personally not the biggest fan of body/visceral horror, but as I mentioned before, this feels much more psychological. Things most definitely get 'Game of Thrones' level messed up in this movie, and that goes beyond this idea of cloning yourself and then watching a version of yourself get killed in front of your eyes. Like, if that's not truly messed up, I dunno what is. But having said that, I really did feel a sense of symbolism about this idea. I didn't take it as a way to commit suicide and keep living, which I think is what some took away from it. In that case, yeah, it's a WTF kind of flick. But bear with me on this one.
My takeaway was that every version of James he saw killed was some part of his personality that he wanted to do away with. When you pay close attention, each one is very different in the way they act, and once killed off, James seems to get some sort of satisfaction from it (usually). I see it as a cautionary tale, in that if we do away with those versions of ourselves that we hate, it doesn't really make us "us" anymore. Even the way it ends sort of lends itself to this idea (I think). But of course, that's a simple interpretation of someone's work of art. Whether that's what Cronenberg meant by it or not, only he knows for sure. I just got the feeling that there was something much deeper to this than met the eye.
This belongs to a subgenre of films that make you feel dirty enough to need a shower after watching it, and there's no rush to re-watch it. While I admired some of the concepts behind this, it's still not something I would consider up my alley, despite my whole takeaway from it. I think this one's made for a particular audience I'm not necessarily a part of, but if you like a good "WTF did I just watch" movie, it's not a bad rabbit hole to head down for a good, twisted mind. It's an unusual mixture of intriguing and creepy with haunting aspects to it and the way it plays with the viewer's brain. I really do think that if this is your kind of thing, it's very well worth checking out. But for yours truly, it's a bit too much.