David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” is a masterful work of body horror. It’s such a powerful, confronting experience that it’s easy to overlook how fundamentally theatrical an affair it is – nearly the entire film is two, sometimes three, characters interacting on the one set. But the compelling story, strong performances, and stunningly brilliant make-up and effects work transport viewers so effectively that it does indeed become a very cinematic, memorable experience.
It’s such a lean, well-paced film. Nothing is present that doesn’t need to be. It’s as efficient and precise as its protagonist Seth Brundle, played by the appropriately bug-eyed Jeff Goldblum, who does brilliant work keeping a consistent character underneath the many visual transformations he goes through. Geena Davis (Veronica) was Goldblum’s girlfriend at the time, and the two do a good job drawing from that well. There are so many great little moments of character-building (Brundle’s piano, Brundle’s wardrobe, Veronica flushing the toilet while Stathis is showering) and comparatively few moments of exposition.
Taken purely on the surface, the film is an excellent tale of body horror, but Cronenberg has talked about aspects of the film as commentary on disease, mortality, deterioration, age, and even without deeper thinking on the thematics, many scenes hit relatable points – a manic Brundle justifying his addiction to sugar, a diseased Brundle trying to find upsides in his horrid affliction, the point where Veronica can’t invest as much emotionally in the rapidly-deteriorating Brundle, Veronica’s wrestling with what to do with her body, etc. The strong character moments are as effective as the brilliant effects work, and I’m sure they’re also a big part of why the film has remained so iconic. I give it four telepods, and a baboon.