This didn't feel like a horror movie.
Hell, I know it should be. It's a Cronenberg movie in which a man turns into a disgusting special effects monster who vomits acid on people's limbs. What else could it be?
I dunno. Whatever planet David Cronenberg comes from (and it's sure as hell not ours - just watch his interviews), it's not one whose inhabitants connect with us humans enough to want to scare us. The Fly is a romance. Okay, it's a really twisted romance that ends with dissolved limbs, shotgun blasts and gross physical deformity, but ain't that always the case? Seriously, this is a film about two (count 'em) people and their relationship. We're never expected to feel *fear* for them. Even in the most horrible moments, including moments of physical danger, we're invited to sympathise rather than shriek.
Admittedly there's a third character, but he's established as such a nutjob in the first half of the movie that there's no way we give a flying fuck what happens to him.
No, this is the Geena and Jeff show - and that's another part of my problem with the "horror" tag, right there. For a 21st century audience (though not back in 1986), these are two movie stars - not just recognisable actors, but stars. These are people I'm more used to seeing in nonsense like Independence Day or The Long Kiss Goodnight. We're talking about screen time shared with Will Smith.
Jeff Goldblum is great. He's got incredibly characterful physignomy; he's not just a pretty boy, though admittedly he's got eyes as big as his face when he puts his mind to it. But he can look feral. He's got the sort of suppressed intensity that you'd find in the best James Bonds. He's familiar, yes, but he's *perfect* as the lead in a horror movie. And as an aside, I really like his ability to project intelligence. At one point he asks, "What's happening to me?" Most movie characters would leave it at that, but Seth Brundle continues, "Am I dying? Is this how it starts; am I dying?" It wasn't a rhetorical question, but the start of a thought process. Funky!
But Geena Davis... okay, yes, I adore Geena. I think she's smart, sexy and beautiful. I'm biased. However I reckon she's got a screen presence that's perhaps too big for the story around her; something about her screams "movie star". She grabs your attention and locks it to her character, making this always a story about the people and relationships rather than the existential horror of Man Becomes Fly. Thankfully Jeff Goldblum is every bit as charismatic as Geena, or this movie could have come off seriously lopsided.
I'm not complaining, mind you. I think that's a valuable talent in an actor. But I think with duller leads, this would have more closely resembled a horror flick. As it stands, it ain't.
That's not to say that there isn't plenty of atmosphere. The vital sequence of Brundle + teleporter + fly is a masterpiece of ominous foreboding, leaving the audience in no doubt whatsoever that this is going to be Really Really Bad. This movie flatters your intelligence, in that instead of hammering home plot points it's frequently happy to understate and let us join the dots. The bad shit coming seems even more threatening when we've worked out its implications for ourselves.
But why always baboons? Wouldn't it be cheaper to buy a cage of gerbils? Quite apart from anything else, you're in less danger of being mauled to death by a pissed-off gerbil if your experiment goes wrong.
I liked this movie a lot. It has brilliant sequences, lovely moments and two top-notch central performances that ooze star quality and piss all over what most other actors would have given us. It's an atmospheric and ominous film, but I don't think it's even trying to be scary. That's not a bad thing, just what it is.