Cannes 2024 Review: THE SHROUDS Contemplates Necrophiliac Possibilities of Digital Afterlife

David Cronenberg doesn’t get introspective with his most personal film.

Contributing Writer
Cannes 2024 Review: THE SHROUDS Contemplates Necrophiliac Possibilities of Digital Afterlife

The Shrouds is David Cronenberg's most intensely personal film, or at least he wants us to think it is. Just how intensely personal can body horror get, you might ask?

Well, here we have Vincent Cassel acting as Cronenberg's proxy. Not only is the French bad boy sporting the Canadian auteur's signature slicked back grey 'do, he also gets to recite Cronenberg's spiel on atheism as tech impresario Karsh. So OK.

A former industrial videographer, Karsh is the inventor of GraveTech and owner of a state-of-the-art, soon-to-be-franchised cemetery (and its fancy on-site restaurant), where the buried dead are each encased in the titular contraption that allows their loved ones to be virtually inside the coffin, monitoring the decomposition in real time through a phone app and a screen embedded in the headstone.

On a more intimate note, it apparently also allows Karsh to make love to an apparition of his late wife, Becca (Diane Kruger), four years gone. Or is he dreaming? Or having nightmares? No one really knows! His peculiar preoccupation truly skeeves out a blind date, though, despite her having googled him in advance; so Cronenberg at least has a sense of humor about what he does. Is this still body horror? Or have we fully ventured into necrophilia territory?

Though not a believer, Karsh discusses religion, specifically Judaism, at length here. So you know his atheism is an informed decision. To be sure, religion has hindered progress from time immemorial. But what do unfettered science and technology look like without some semblance of moral or ethical compass? Is The Shrouds meant to be a manifesto or a cautionary tale?

Karsh notices something amiss in Becca's remains, so he consults with her veterinarian-turned-pet-groomer sister, Terry (also Kruger). A self-admitted conspiracist, she speculates that what he sees may well be some kind of tracking device.

The cemetery soon gets vandalized, and the streaming capabilities also get locked out by ransomware -- except the hacker has made no contact and left no demand. For fear of jeopardizing a pending overseas expansion, Karsh decides to keep this quiet and solve the problems on his own. He temporarily closes off the cemetery and restaurant to the public while having Terry's programmer ex-husband, Maury (Guy Pearce), work to disable the ransomware. Karsh also notices that the targeted graves, Becca's included, all belong to former patients of Dr. Eckler (Steve Switzman), who was also her ex.

Scientifically speaking, The Shrouds is the most plausible in Cronenberg's oeuvre. All the hypothetical inventions seem to be based on existing technology, such as Karsh's A.I. assistant, Hunny (voiced also by Kruger). But science and technology aren't truth and gospel that can ward off nature and decay, at least not yet. They are susceptible to human manipulation. Is Cronenberg wary of science and technology potentially being used to exploit human grief?

As far as body horror goes, the stuff is pretty tame. You see Becca's amputated limbs and surgically removed left breast, and that's about it. Again, these predicaments are rooted in reality.

Stylistically, the film feels too clinical for something meant to be intensely personal. It looks like some kind of David Fincher project that bears little resemblance to real life in spite of the content. The set decoration by Carol Spier and art direction by Jason Clarke register as sparse and minimalist. Cinematography by Douglas Koch also feels cold and sterile.

Is this supposedly personal film even remotely introspective? Cronenberg's second wife, film editor Carolyn Zeifman, died of cancer in 2017. For a film about grieving and coping, it's strangely devoid of emotions.

Karsh continues to have sex with a badly disfigured Becca in his dreams, even as she progressively deteriorates. There's no love, no tenderness, no memory, no sentimentality. Does that allow him to suffer the pain she endured in life? In reality, he has seemingly moved on by seeing Terry and Soo-Min (Sandrine Holt), wife of a business associate. Is GraveTech just a tool for stroking survivor's guilt and self-flagellation then?

Yes, this review has asked many questions, but The Shrouds offers no answers. Cronenberg gets too sidetracked by the conspiratorial stuff to get deeply philosophical about mortality and nonconsensual digital afterlife. It also isn't the raging, casting-blame-all-around kind of conspiracy that would make more sense in this context. Is this guilt? Is it meant to be a confessional? If we have to ask, then is it any good?

The film enjoys its world premiere at Cannes Film Festival.

The Shrouds

  • David Cronenberg
  • David Cronenberg
  • Vincent Cassel
  • Diane Kruger
  • Guy Pearce
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Cannes 2024Cannes Film FestivalDavid CronenbergDiane KrugerVincent CasselGuy PearceHorrorThriller

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