Maps To The Stars-1David Cronenberg made a name for himself as a maestro of body horror. From Videodrome to The Fly, Cronenberg’s early career seemed to bear the mission objective of producing the grisliest scenes of bodily disfigurement committed to screen. As of late however, Cronenberg seems to have turned his attention more to mood pieces than that of grotesque shock. The Canadian auteur’s last three films consist of Cosmopolis, A Dangerous Method, and Eastern Promises, films that may have their fair share of violence and oddball characters, but are somewhat removed from the visceral pulpy-ness of his earlier work. With his latest, Maps To The Stars, Cronenberg has conducted a sharp cocktail of his styles of filmmaking, presenting a moody picture, but one in which grotesque ugliness is found beneath the skin of his Hollywood figures (metaphorically, no Goldblum houseflies here).

Maps To The Stars is an ensemble drama that takes Hollywood celebrity under the microscope and pulls back its layers with a sense of twisted glee. A celebrity family haunted by a tragic past and disturbing secrets. An ageing actress haunted by the presence of her deceased, much more successful, mother. These are Cronenberg’s subject.

The celebrity family in question are the Weiss’. John Cusack’s patriarch, a pyschotherapist who has made millions from his self-help books, is only concerned with how his family’s actions affect his work and own reputation. Olivia Williams’ mother seems to be the only character of the family who bares concern for anyone except herself, as she helps manage her young son’s career, albeit in a ambitious and controlling fashion. The son in question is 13 year-old Benjie (The Killing’s Evan Bird), a child-star of a successful kid’s movie who is trying to come back after a stint in rehab. maps_to_the_stars_2

The fourth part of this family is Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), the badly scarred estranged eldest sibling of the Weiss family. Returning to L.A. in an attempt to make amends with the family that has all but disowned her, she finds employment through Carrie Fisher (of all people) as a Personal Assistant to the ageing movie star, Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore). Segrand takes an instant fascination to the scarred Agatha, as her own mother died in a fire, therefore Havana sees Agatha as a means of confronting the spectral visions of her deceased mother (Sarah Gadon).

Cronenberg’s hyper-real fantasy Hollywood is one made up of recognisable figures and individuals plagued by their own pasts and their own sins, which manifest, at times, in the supernatural. This is a Hollywood-land that is both glamorous and repellent, with Cronenberg eager to delve deep beneath the covers of these celebrity archetypes that we can easily recognise in both modern and old celebrity culture. There is not one innocent amongst these characters, the closest to it being Robert Pattison’s struggling actor/writer cum-limo driver (no coincidence after Cosmopolis), even though by the end of the sordid affair he has been seduced by the ugly under-belly of deceiving celebrity personas.

The casting of this picture is pretty much impeccable. Moore, having won Best Actress at Cannes, is most certainly at her most committed here than she has been for a while. Imbuing her fading star with a teenage brat sensibility, her character of Havanna is the one who walks the tighest rope between satire and tragedy, and may draw comparisons to Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, although this comparison is cleverly Maps To The Stars-4twisted once we come to the character’s fate. Moore’s is the type of performance in which you can see every muscle aching and straining to deliver convincingly a character who is constantly on the edge of insanity. It may be too ‘out-there’ for Academy voters, but this will certainly stand as one of most impressive female performances of the year.

Elsewhere, Wasikowska continues to impress by selecting roles which put her through some very dark psychologies. Her Agatha has youthful exuberance at times, but is very much a volatile presence, with the sense that anything horrifying could occur should she stay around too long. Cusack and Williams are not quite given as much to do as the rest of the main cast, but they clearly understand the root of their character’s turmoils and exude a sense of dishonesty. The real surprise of the cast is Evan Bird. The young actor, who by no accident resembles a young Justin Timberlake, has perhaps the most interesting and recognisable archetype to play. His Bieber-esque teen brat is, on the surface, nothing more than that. But once we learn more about his up-bringing and what attention he receives from his over-bearing mother and negligent father paints him as a tragic figure of circumstance, making us think twice and check the facts before we begin to judge the actions of young child  stars. Maps To The Stars-3

This is a Hollywood no one would want to acknowledge exists. It is a twisted reality which does at times play a bit ridiculous, but due to the hyper-real nature of it all, Cronenberg somehow manages to make it all rather easy to swallow. That is, until we hit the final third of the film. The film quitely ticks away through the majority of the first and second act as it sets up its characters and their dynamics, but much like many of its players, the film itself seems to be only one step away from becoming dangerous and insane. When it does tip over the edge, the violence delivered is shocking, haunting, and nerve-shreddingly drawn out. Maps To The Stars is Cronenberg having fun again, once more messing with our perceptions and testing our limits and boundaries; an intoxicating experience.

4/5- Cronenberg’s Hollywood nightmare is a gleefully dark fable brought to vibrant life by an in-sync cast all on the top of their game.