Quick-Thoughts: David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981)

I am not surprised in the slightest to find out after watching Scanners that it had a rushed production because it absolutely shows. The first twenty and final twenty minutes — coincidentally the most we see of Michael Ironside? — are riveting, showcasing some of David Cronenberg’s most imposing body horror to date, but largely everything in between is a chore to get through. Notably the kickstarter to Cronenberg’s 80s era of making cyberpunk sci-fi / action / horror / espionage thrillers that aesthetically matched classics of the time period such as Blade Runner (1982) or The Terminator (1984), this sort of test-run especially though feels like it’s just following textbook with its formulaic “prophecy” literary devices that play the hero’s journey narrative safe. For some, it can be overlooked as playful cheese, but to me, it’s tormenting to see perhaps Cronenberg’s most lifeless characterizations yet attempt to carry an entire movie: Stephen Lack is already terrible enough as the lead hero, but even supporting protagonist played by Jennifer O’Neill feels more like she’s there so that the writers can check-off the sidekick essential than it does towards giving the character an actual productive presence. In fact, the whole picture just appears like a hasty assemblage of one-note convention check-offs, aside from the moments where we see Cronenberg’s take on telepathy in motion, which are what keep the performances somewhat engaging, but could the line delivery from them be any more god-awfully stiff?

Maybe Scanners will have a Shivers (1975) or Rabid (1977) effect on me — I raised both of those films two letter grades up around a year later, and I even did that for Videodrome (1983) and The Fly (1986) too, howbeit, incongruously I thought those two movies were great to begin with. And like all of Cronenberg’s efforts so far, what keeps Scanners from dipping below mediocrity is that it has compelling intention in its narrative, yearning to depict a world in which artificial enhancement to the human form is asking for a war against those who are not medically supported for that or even to those who are but nonconsensually before they could consent, which parallels thoughtfully to elements of our own reality run by parental and corporate advisements. Evidently, scientific or technological advancement has that potential to segregate us into classes from each other even more so — but hey, did Cronenberg ever read X-Men before coming up with these ideas, hmm? Nonetheless, my shameless dealbreaker lies here: it frequently bored me despite such aims, and I wasn’t familiar with that when it came to exploring Cronenberg’s filmography until now. 

Verdict: C+

David Cronenberg Ranked

“Scanners” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

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