Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"A polished, handsomely produced piece of work delivered with real confidence."

Perhaps a name shouldn’t mean that much, but in light of the contributions to cinema made by both her father and her brother, the arrival of Caitlin Cronenberg has sparked understandable excitement. She’s worked with both of them, growing up around film sets and trying her hand at pretty much everything. This, her feature film début, reflects that. It’s a polished, handsomely produced piece of work delivered with real confidence. It doesn’t get under the skin in the same way as her family members’ work – that’s not really what it’s aiming for – but it does establish her as a filmmaker with a clear vision of her own.

The setting is the near future, a point at which the scale of the catastrophe facing humankind has finally been recognised and serious international agreements have been made. At this stage, there is no time to tackle the problem by reducing pollution, switching to alternative energy generation methods or even geoengineering. The solution politicians have agreed on in the Athens Accords is population reduction. This will not be achieved through restricting the number of births, but by euthanising, within one year, 20% of each country’s citizens.

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In Canada, they call it ‘enlisting’. Certain rules have been agreed. if one person from a family volunteers, nobody else is obliged to. Children will not be euthanised. When people volunteer, a significant sum of money will be paid to their loved ones. Everything has to be done officially and by the book. As we travel along a street in the early scenes we see people signing papers on their doorsteps, see bulky body bags being carried out of houses into vans. Everybody else politely looks the other way. It’s a matter of putting it out of mind, getting it over with, and then life can go on and there will no longer be anything like as much to worry about. Of course, everybody expects that the wealthy will wriggle out of it somehow – not least the wealthy themselves.

The film centres on the York family, whose fortune has been made on precisely the products have brought the world to this dire predicament. Patriarch Charles (Peter Gallacher) and his partner Dawn (Uni Park) have called together their four children, some of whom have previously been estranged, for an important family dinner and announcement. There’s Jared (Jay Baruchel), a TV presenter whom we have previously seen praising the merits of the euthanasia programme; Rachel (Emily Hampshire), a company executive and single mother who, much to her father’s chagrin, arrives with daughter Mia (Sirena Gulamgaus) in tow; Ashley (Alanna Bale), a struggling actress still treated as the baby of the family; and Noah (Sebastian Chacon), an adoptee who is pointedly presented by Rachel because she feels that Charles has spoiled him. An alcoholic, he has sobered up with the help of new girlfriend Grace (Blessing Adedijo), who reassures him over the phone before he enters the house. He can get through this, and soon it will be over and everything will go back to normal. But nothing is ever going to be normal again.

What follows is a chamber piece intermixed with bouts of action and characterised by spiky satire. Young Gulamgaus acquits herself well as her character provides a different perspective on events, one step removed from the fray. Enrico Colantoni is a gleeful antagonist, though there are moments when it’s easy to take his side. There’s horror, with a few moments that will make unhardened viewers recoil, but this is more the sort of thing you’d expect in a thriller than in a genre film per se. The existential horror here is more slick and less speculative than that otherwise associated with the Cronenberg name.

Though Charles’ four children, on whom most of the story depends, each have necessary roles in the plot, they’re not all as well developed. The structure of the film makes it easy to root for Noah throughout, whilst some of the others struggle to generate sympathy at all, and this rather lets the audience off the hook, reducing any sense of guilt which might otherwise be associated with taking sides. That said, this approach makes room for further entertaining villainy. Surprisingly, Jared is often the most interesting of the group, largely thanks to Baruchel’s performance (the big awards really are going to have to take notice of him at some point), as he deals not only with moral conflict and social priorities but with awareness of his own lack of courage.

The casual way in which issues like racism and ageism are dealt with alongside this adds a further layer of darkness to the tale. It’s too sharply observed to be considered dismissive in itself, but it registers the dismissive way in which these matters are routinely treated by people with power, and provides its own commentary on how a scenario like this would likely play out for the masses. Cronenberg ensures that the core of her story remains accessible and darkly entertaining to a wide potential audience, thereby encouraging people who might not yet have engaged seriously with the developing real world crisis to reflect a little further on what it means.

Reviewed on: 28 Apr 2024
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During an environmental collapse that is forcing humanity to shed 20% of its population, a family dinner erupts into chaos when a father's plan to enlist in the government's new euthanasia program goes horribly awry.

Director: Caitlin Cronenberg

Writer: Michael Sparaga

Starring: Jay Baruchel, Sebastian Chacon, Emily Hampshire, Alanna Bale, Peter Gallagher, Enrico Colantoni, Sirena Gulamgaus, Uni Park, Blessing Adedijo

Year: 2024

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Canada


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