Without a doubt one of the most controversial and divisive films in the history of cinema, David Cronenberg’s Crash is a daring and challenging watch full of graphic sexuality and violence. Surprisingly earning a gorgeous rerelease with a stunning new restoration on digital, Blu-ray and 4K UHD, it’s time to take another drive with Cronenberg’s much-debated cult film.
The film follows a man (James Spader) as he becomes involved with a group of symphorophiliacs who are sexually aroused by car crashes. Based on the notorious 1973 novel by J.G. Ballard that resulted in one publisher stating the author was ‘beyond psychiatric help’, its’ premise is certainly a difficult one to put to film. Who better to direct the big-screen adaptation, then, than Cronenberg, master of visceral body horror and other disturbing subject matter in films like Scanners and Videodrome. If the premise of David Cronenberg directing a film about an underground sub-culture of omnisexual car-crash victims doesn’t float your boat, then there is nothing in the resulting film that will change your mind. It is exactly how it sounds on the tin.
The controversial content of the story prompted an aggressive campaign to ban the film in the UK before anyone had even seen it – leading the BBFC to inquire with a Queen’s Counsel, a psychologist and a group of disabled people as to what measure to take. Ultimately, the film was passed uncut and the rest is history. The film is, unsurprisingly, a harrowing and uncomfortable viewing experience. With distant, cold performances and a clinical delivery, it is a bleak and depressing film and one that seems to often rest on its lurid content for shock value. The relationships in the film and the characters that partake in this dark, twisted fetish are undeveloped and the film often feels rather lifeless as a result. It seems more like an experiment in testing the viewer’s limits than compelling them with any sort of narrative, and the resulting film suffers as a result. A 2002 study of this delivery by Parveen Adams concluded this was to avoid the viewer relating to the characters and instead finding themselves a ‘disimpassioned voyeur’, but keeping all of the characters so distant from the viewer threatens to derail the film.
As a psychological study of what makes these people tick, Crash could’ve been an insightful – albeit equally disturbing – character study drama. Instead, it often feels like a forefather to the ‘torture porn’ genre, piling on scene after scene of harrowing material in the hope that, somehow, a film will come out the other end. There are a great number of people who admire the film for its premise and originality, and it certainly does tick both of those boxes. But with such a complexly psychological concept, it just feels underwhelming that the film doesn’t probe deeply into what makes these people tick.
The new restoration from Arrow Video is flawless, especially on 4K UHD, which will certainly delight the aforementioned fans and defenders of Cronenberg’s film. But one wonders why this niche and divisive film was selected for the premium format when so many more popular films are frequently overlooked. Almost 25 years on, Crash’s lurid content is beginning to lose its impact and more clearly reveal the film’s narrative flaws.