Scanners (1981) dir. David Cronenberg




David Cronenberg has an eye for cinema. He has directed some of the finest work in the medium. His unique approach to directing scenes and creating uncomfortable, yet excellent, films is quite inspirational. Scanners was, according to Cronenberg, a nightmare to film due to many issues. Filming began before the script was completed. This lead to much of the film to be shot in places that looked interesting, and for Cronenberg to write hours before shooting. The reward is an excellent sci-fi/body horror film that can both make you uneasy and interested in this fictional, telepathic battle.

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The film excels in multiple ways at depicting the horror and pain these “Scanners” are going through. The most important aspect is the work that goes into making these gruesome scenes come to life. Dick Smith was responsible for the prosthetics. He is the man that created the iconic mind-blowing scene. The final battle between the two main characters is also an astonishing scene to watch in terms of visuals. The popping veins, scraping skin, and whitened eyes are all Smith. These prosthetics would be wasteful if not for the performances. Stephen Lack and Michael Ironside perfectly convey how much pain and effort a powerful being, like the Scanners, feel. Every shake, bug eyed stare, and twitch of the eyes lends a hand in conveying what these characters go through. They make the situation much more real and believable. The film is also a testament to sound design. A movie doesn’t need fancy camerawork or special effects to properly make the viewer uneasy. In combination with the performances, the high-pitched wailing when a Scanner is scanning someone makes a big impact on the audience. Watching victims convulse or seeing the Scanner focus their energy into one individual is elevated thanks to the excellent sound design. A handful of scenes also feature interesting sets, including the weaving maze of stairs and escalators in a colorful mall, an abstract art exhibition/studio, and other industrial settings.

Scanners is a futuristic thriller that blends a world that we are all familiar with complex science, espionage, and conspiracies. The film feels much smarter than it is when groups of scientists discuss the details of the human anatomy and psyche in relation to what a Scanner does. The final battle between Lack and Ironside’s characters begins with a discussion about what it means to possess such incredible power while dealing with philosophical ideas. It all comes together in a battle between two evils, leaving us with a vague, yet intriguing, conclusion. Cronenberg executes this smart science with violent gun battles, betrayal between allies, and a struggle that feels much larger than just 237 Scanners.

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Even though I do love other Cronenberg films more, Scanners is the first film I saw of his. This is the one to hook me to his filmography. His style and approach to storytelling in an ambitious, concise way is inspiring. The simple execution of much of the film is the highlight. The film didn’t much of budget, but it managed to create a sci-fi film that is on par for something with much more support.

dir. David Cronenberg
103 min.

Screens Thursday, 11/2, 4:45pm & 9:30pm @ Brattle Theatre
Double feature with Firestarter (7:00pm) in 35mm!
Part of the ongoing series: Strange Inspirations

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