Scanners (1981)

Like the majority of David Cronenberg’s oeuvre, “Scanners” is a study in contrasts: It’s both deadly serious as well as wickedly funny, sophisticated yet viscerally gory, and artsy while rather conventional in structure. Cronenberg’s usual knack with visuals is on full display here, even in the most simple ways: For example, an amphitheater is draped in striking red while its audience is largely dressed in whites thus creating a sharp contrast, while also pointing the way to an unexpectedly grisly narrative that consistently ups the ante with its shock effects. The story itself is interesting in a “pulp fiction” kind of way, almost like the movie could have been made by a major studio just a few years later in the wake of “The Terminator” and “The Hitcher,” but it’s precisely that B-movie looseness crossed with Cronenberg’s hyper-sophisticated directorial approach that makes the project all the more arresting. Unfortunately the acting is a bit of a mixed bag: Leads Jennifer O’Neill and Stephen Lack are disappointingly lackluster, unable to access the dramatic levels of Cronenberg’s material, which unfortunately results in a dulling of its intended impact. Luckily however, Michael Ironside is on hand as antagonist Revok, and he’s absolutely perfect: He’s got the swagger of a young Jack Nicholson and the sniveling insolence of James Dean, making him a villain that you want to see punished but also maybe that not too fast, because well, he’s pretty damn cool and the movie derives a lot of its of impact from his appeal. So, it’s not really for everyone (it’s too slow for mainstream audiences and too pulpy for art house audiences), but a patient, adventurous viewer will likely walk away satisfied.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)

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