Scanners is the first film I’ve seen from David Cronenberg’s impressive filmography that I’d describe as disappointing. It has a promising introduction; an atmosphere of cold disquiet pervading claustrophobic sets suffused with violent crimson. Early scenes are enigmatic and fascinating: a homeless man, strapped to a bed, writhes helplessly as silent spectators slowly march into the secluded room he inhabits and, elsewhere, Michael Ironside makes a guy’s head explode with little more than a furious snarl.
This is undeniably great stuff, exploring Cronenberg’s recurring theme of body horror with trademark detachment, but it shifts into a clichéd sci-fi plot: the titular “scanners” are powerful psychokinetic individuals grouped into warring factions, there’s a government organisation, there’s a mole, there’s … nothing you haven’t seen before.
Ironside delivers a memorable performance as the villain of the piece, but his appearances are unfortunately rare; the film casts its lot with the uncharismatic Stephen Lack, the aforementioned vagrant. His motivations are unclear, while the plot machinations are overly complex and, frankly, not interesting enough to decipher.
This is Cronenberg, so there’s still plenty to like – the climactic battle between Lack and Ironside is grotesquely exciting – but unfortunately Scanners doesn’t hang together like it should.