Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: “The Fly”

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”I’m saying I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over and the insect is awake.”

For the second review of horror month, I have decided to look upon a variation of the horror genre, exploring the sub-genre of “body horror.” Body horror deals with bodily change, being of transformation, destruction, etc. Body horror focuses more on the physical being of the character to create horror rather than, for example, the use of shadows.

Perhaps the most famous body horror director is David Cronenberg, who directed Naked Lunch, Scanners, and Videodrome, all of which are a part of the genre. He also directed The Fly (1986), which may very well be his quintessential work, with the incredible practical effects displaying a maturation of technique. The film does not play the body horror genre with extremity. Rather, it uses pacing and subtly to truly introduce its horrific events.  

*Spoilers ahead*

The Dialogue: Throughout the film, I noticed that the dialogue is a bit tedious at points and felt clunky and inorganic in some scenes, such as when Veronica “Ronnie” Quaife (Geena Davis) has the “crude” argument with Stathis Borans (John Getz). I believe that without some of this scene’s overacting, it would have developed Getz’s character more thoroughly. The argument could have used a retake in order to allow for the right tempo to be discovered. Another bit of dialogue that felt clunky and inorganic was the scene where Ronnie famously says, “Be Afraid…be very afraid.” The delivery of the line is paced too quickly. Again, if she had slowed down and found the right tempo against the other actors, I believe it would have succeeded dramatically.

However, there are also scenes of dialogue that are perfectly executed, better allowing for the atmosphere to effectively develop. Jeff Goldblum plays Seth Brundle in the film, revealing a mastery of his part through his lines and direction. For example, the “insect politics” sequence was given with modification. This modification is his slight lisp, twitches, and heavy breathing, which enables us to understand the progression of his “illness.” This sequence also gives us a significance in dialogue between Seth and Ronnie. Seth describes how he wants to be the first insect politician, which makes Ronnie bottle-up a hysterical confusion. She states, “I don’t know what you’re trying to say,” which is a powerful moment that confines Seth into his own mind.       

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The Practical effects: Not only do the practical effects here look stunning, but there is a specific intended use for them further than simply being for the purposes of horror. Cronenberg intended to bring a genuine pacing to his effects in the film, all of them being utilized to show Seth’s transition into the fly. For example, the arm wrestling scene not only gives us a strong use of practical effects, but demonstrates Seth’s newfound strength. After this scene, the practical effects just keep getting more intricate, being perfectly paced with Seth’s descent into becoming the fly. The gross but subtle practical effects of Seth’s nails peeling off is another example of this; his human features continue to decay through the duration of the film.

The actual transition into the fly is the most stunning effect in the film. The texture on the fly really makes the viewer think about the detail. But when Seth’s mouth falls off and begins morphing into the final form, it visually makes us wince. I did not have complete pity for Seth until his eyes bulged and he was lost to the fly. This is the scene in the film that fully displays the essence of body horror, bodily change, and transformation. It is also the most visually intense image of the entire film, and marks the loss of a man into the field of science. His grand intellectual pursuits have backfired on him, and ultimately cost him his life.

The image of the fly standing tall shows that it is now in control, displaying the dominance it has both in the situation and over Seth. The texture is all confined to the fly’s body, which allows for our eyes to marvel at the confide wonder of practical effects.    

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Cinematography: The cinematography is not immensely special, but it accomplishes its need in strategically disclosing the fly slowly and surely over the course of the film. The technique that’s most often used is depth of field, which places the background out of focus in many of the shots. The incorporation of this seems to emphasize the characters’ struggles, disallowing the audience to have unrestricted freedom in viewing the scenes. The audience’s lack of freedom is strategic, paralleling Seth’s own loss of freedom as he continues to transform into the fly. Another element that allows for dynamic building is the use of a blue-filter lens, which is tactically used directly after Seth goes through the machine for the first time and becomes contaminated with the fly’s DNA.

Mise-en-scène: The purpose of placement is not heavily emphasized in this film, as we are not often presented with objects that have deeper and higher purpose for being there. Although, the placement of characters is sometimes higher in substance in instances where the characters are placed strategically for effect. For example, when Ronnie sits on the bed after returning to argue with Stathis Borans, Ronnie is placed in the darkness and is silhouetted to visualize how Seth is disregarding her, foreshadowing a future ignorance from Seth. This is emphasized greatly when Seth reveals that he went through the pod in a fit of jealousy.

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Conclusion: Overall, The Fly is a unique remake in the fact that it is even better than its predecessor. While I may have a bit of nostalgia towards this film, I do not feel clouded in my judgement. The Fly may have some imperfections, but it is very well-crafted and well-paced, being one of the premier examples of body horror in film.

4 out of 5

If you’re in or near Chicago, I would recommend you catch The Fly at the Music Box Theatre on October 24th.

— Christian Mietus, Film Blogger

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