As I skid towards the final few David Cronenberg directed films I’ve yet to see, I realise that there are themes within his work that he becomes so fixated on, so disturbed by certain aspects of his story, that he soon forgets to flesh out the actual characters and story around his premise. Crash, for instance, is a tale of car crash survivors who get their sexual gratification from car accidents. Sickening, twisted, right up the street of Cronenberg, and if anyone could have made such a strange premise work, then it’d absolutely be him. But something just doesn’t click, the spark fizzles out rather quickly and it’s, dare I say it, a bit of a car crash.
James Spader leads the way with his role as James Ballard, a T.V. Director who ends up in a horrific car crash that leaves him scarred, bloody and disturbed. He soon stumbles upon a cult that get their kicks through recreating famous car crashes. Vaughan (Elias Koteas) is instrumental in these moments, reconstructing the crashes of movie stars like James Dean, in an effort of adrenalin and arousal. It’s a very interesting concept, fumbled entirely by a lacking script that turns this thoroughly entertaining piece into something obsessed with a fundamentally flawed, and objectively boring message.
There are good performances within Crash, nothing amazing, but far from bleak or mundane. Spader and Holly Hunter have some interesting scenes together, lines that feel like they’re a league above the rest of what the script has to offer, and the slow-burning story between the two is relatively well suited. I fear that the biggest problem of all with these moments is that Cronenberg has nothing of interest to say about these characters. For all their strong performances, nothing they do with or against one another really make for anything interesting in the slightest.
Slightly weird supporting characters make the rounds now and then. Vaughan is a strange character that doesn’t receive the build-up I had first anticipated from him. He’s underwhelming, with a solid performance from Koteas nailing the weirder aspects of his performance. Still, it’s not a winning performance, and it does lose its way a bit when the film starts to descend and spiral into weirder and weirder scenes that lack general competency.
Alarming, disgusting, ultimately boring, Cronenberg’s efforts here just aren’t enough to bring anything interesting together. Light touches of the body horror that made him famous, Cronenberg here becomes obnoxiously dull, squandering any opportunity to make his piece on car crash victims anything more than an easy to follow drama with a handful of excellent setpieces. Spader’s leading performance is pivotal to whether or not the film will work for you, and it’s interesting to see how he adapts to his newfound interests. But other than that, there’s nothing to hook an audience into Crash, aside from a somewhat neutered style from someone who was once one of the best in the horror business.