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The Shrouds

  • Film
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
The Shrouds
Photograph: Cannes Film Festival
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Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

David Cronenberg’s flawed meditation on grief, sex and healing crawls under your skin

You, too, might feel like you’re trapped in a grave during the low points of this sombre, claustrophobic and deeply personal oddity from Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg (The Fly, A History of Violence). It’s a film of bold ideas and moments of terrific atmosphere and visual power, but those strengths are often neutered by a lack of storytelling precision, with various strands coming and going. Yet for its faults, you can’t escape the late-career, and late-life, honesty here: you can feel the madness of loss running through it. It’s flawed, but still worth experiencing for its dark imagination and black humour.

‘Grief is rotting your teeth,’ the dentist tells Karsh (Vincent Cassel), a Toronto tech entrepreneur whose stacked grey hairline immediately nods to Cronenberg himself. Grief is also rotting Karsh’s mind, which was already occupied with death. He’s a businessman who runs a high-tech cemetery with a restaurant attached. Here, for a price, bodies are buried in high-tech shrouds fitted with tiny cameras which allow relatives of the dead to observe the bodies of their loved ones from the grave, via screens fitted in headstones and connected to apps. Elon Musk will surely take notes.

Cronenberg usually tells stories with more verve and storytelling power than this

Karsh has recently buried his own wife Rebecca (Diane Kruger) in this peculiar fashion. But it’s not just the haunting images of her decaying bones that keep her top of his mind. She’s still present in every step of his life, from conversations and sex with a new partner, Soo-Min (House of Cards’ Sandrine Holt), and his relations with Rebecca’s sister, Terry (also Kruger), to his interactions with Terry’s former husband (Guy Pearce), who is pushing conspiracy theories about the Russians and Chinese hacking Karsh’s emerging technology.

The Shrouds is a film about grief and moving-on that’s exactly as you imagine the writer-director of Scanners and Crash might approach it. He looks to body horror and sexual imagination to answer the question: how do you deal with losing the person you love and how do they continue to exist in your life after death? (Cronenberg, now 81, has spoken of the pain of losing his own wife in 2017.) It’s full of original and brave riffs on that question. But as a storyteller Cronenberg usually tells stories with more verve and storytelling power than this.

The Shrouds premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

Dave Calhoun
Written by
Dave Calhoun

Cast and crew

  • Director:David Cronenberg
  • Screenwriter:David Cronenberg
  • Cast:
    • Guy Pearce
    • Vincent Cassel
    • Diane Krüger
    • Sandrine Holt
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