Tuesday 21 May 2024

Cannes 2024 - The Shrouds by David Cronenberg

In The Shrouds, prominent businessman Karsh (Vincent Cassel), inconsolable since the death of his wife Becca (Diane Kruger),  invents a revolutionary and controversial technology that allows the living to monitor their deceased loved ones in their graves. 

While the synopsis sounds very David Cronenberg indeed, those expecting graphic horror and the kind of gasp inducing moments delivered in his most celebrated films will be sorely disappointed. With its glacial pace, a tone that verges on the detached at times but with a surprising humour at other times, very dialogue heavy in some parts but with a lowkey dreamlike quality in others, this feels very him while still a departure from his usual style in some ways.

Some of the director's usual themes are present however: a fascination but mistrust of technology first of all, with a purposely confusing narrative thread to convey his paranoia about digital surveillance and its insidious invasion of the flesh but one that, as it soon becomes clear, is used as a coping mechanism for Karch's sadness.

Then bodies but there is no body horror here or at least not in the usual way. Representing grief (the director's wife passed away in 2017) in a manner only him can, he explores the various levels of existence and connection, from an AI with an agenda (also voice by Diane Kruger) to the digital but very physical spectacle of a decaying dead body. He also asks himself whether it is ever possibly to truly know a loved one but also ever let them go as the essence of Karsh's dead wife is seemingly encountered in various forms, from her nighttime dreamed visits (or are they?) to the physical resemblance to her sister with a completely different personality and even with a promising new love interest Soo-Min (Sandrine Holt).

There is a mystery and sadness pervading The Shrouds, whose disconcerting, evasive and unconventional nature even within the body of work of the Canadian director makes it all the more fascinating and affecting, with Howard Shore's ethereal score even more beautiful and haunting than in Crimes of the Future (2022).

Vincent Cassel, looking very much like the director, has the most challenging part having to handle the various tone shifts and complexities of the script and he mostly pulls it off. Diane Kruger and Sandrine Holt impress the most however, playing two very Cronenberg-esque female characters, especially the later with her enigmatic aura and a striking final scene.

The Shrouds is a challenging, cerebral film that does not offer the shocks and iconic imagery of the director's most lauded films and its opaque plot and slow, even mundane tone might deter some. Yet it is David Cronenberg's most personal and captivating film in years. 

Review by Laurent de Alberti

Star rating: 

Official selection, in competition

The Shrouds. Directed by David Cronenberg. Starring Vincent Cassel, Diane Kruger, Sandrine Holt...

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