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Review: The Fly (1986)

The Fly (1986)

Directed by: David Cronenberg

Premise: A remake of the 1958 film. A scientist experimenting with teleportation has an accident that fuses his DNA with a house fly. The scientist gradually mutates into an insect-like creature. 

What Works: The Fly is an impressive piece of horror filmmaking that breaks out beyond the boundaries usually assigned to a monster picture. In terms of its story telling, the film moves along briskly and finds a balance in its rhythm, quickly establishing character and moving on with the story, yet lingering on important plot and character beats just long enough to add depth to the story. As a David Cronenberg film, The Fly is unusual in that it has much warmer and accessible human characters than some of Cronenberg’s other work, especially his film preceding The Fly such as Scanners and Videodrome. This is partly due to the casting of lead actors Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis who are perfect for their roles and the film succeeds in part because of relationship between their characters. Davis’ role has unusual intelligence and dignity for a female role in a studio horror film; she retains her womanhood and a sense of vulnerability but the film does not make her a fainting damsel in distress either. Goldblum has a very challenging role in this film. He has to convince the audience that his character is turning into an insect and do that without turning his performance and the film to a laughingstock. Goldblum manages to do that by playing it with just right. The story mirrors a drug addiction plotline and Goldblum carefully increments his transformation both physically and in personality so that it seems completely natural and even inevitable by the time the film reaches its climax. There is something frightening about Goldblum’s character at the start of his transformation that echoes through all the way to the ending. His character’s obsessive, pseudo-spiritual craving for continued transformation through the very thing that is destroying him resembles drug abuse, religious fanaticism, and cultural imperialism and that gives the science fiction scenario of The Fly an eerie familiarity that makes it more accessible and potent to the viewer. Goldblum’s performance is assisted by some terrific makeup effects that still hold up and manage to allow the actor to emote despite considerable prosthetic work.

What Doesn’t: The Fly is a David Cronenberg film and although it does have much warmer qualities than some of Cronenberg’s other movies it also follows Cronenberg’s obsessions about the relationship between technology and the body. The Fly does not fit neatly within traditional monster movie boundaries. That is not a fault of the film and its challenging qualities are exactly what distinguish The Fly from other horror pictures. But it may prove bewildering for some viewers who expect their horror presented in familiar patterns.

DVD extras: The two-disc DVD includes documentaries, deleted scenes, an alternate ending, test footage, screenplays, photo galleries, trailers and TV spots.

Bottom Line: The Fly is proof that remakes can be creative endeavors and even exceed their inspirations. This film’s take an outlandish premise turns it into something frightening but also emotionally evocative.

Episode: #360 (October 23, 2011)