David Cronenberg has a lengthy filmography brimming with stories about the human fascination with violation and voyeurism, fetish and fantasy. His latest feature, Crimes of the Future, screening in Cannes in competition, is very much part of that oeuvre. Alas, it lacks the wit, the menace and the frisson of his previous output.

The film’s opening sequences are its greatest: a beautiful young boy is playing on a beach, a rotting carcass of a ship in the distance. He’s scooping the sand with a spoon and his mother warns him not to eat anything. Only later do we understand that she is not concerned with him eating sea urchins or kelp, but something much less palatable.

The story then shifts to the home of Caprice (Léa Seydoux) and Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), two performance artists. She’s an ex-trauma surgeon and his body conveniently grows extra new organs for her to remove. This dystopian future sees humans feeling no pain (in fact, one character asks Caprice ‘What’s trauma?’), meaning that the world is full of people inflicting damage on one another with no real consequences. It does seem strange that not only do humans no longer feel pain, but they don’t seem to suffer from sepsis or infection either.

There’s a whole lot of bunkum being spouted by these characters, but some of it is pretty funny. As Timlin, Kristen Stewart in particular has a nice comic turn as an office worker for a government department who understands that viewing surgery is the new sex and in turn is incredibly turned on by Tenser (who is ‘not very good at the old sex’). There’s a New Vice cop (Welket Bungué) who’s looking into cases involving people who have the capacity to eat plastic and with whom Tenser has a covert relationship. There is a pair of technicians-cum-assassins who again offer a bit of humour, albeit of the gallows kind. As technicians their job is to repair and adapt the weird skeletal-looking beds and chairs that purport to ease the pains of people as their bodies morph and grow new innards.

As one would expect of a Cronenberg film, the cinematography is lovely and Howard Shore, Cronenberg’s long-time collaborator, provides a reliably lovely score. The actors are all on good form but have to deal with terrible dialogue performed at a snail’s pace. The film could have been twenty minutes shorter if they’d just spoken at a regular speed.

Cronenberg raises interesting questions about the future of humanity and our ability to adapt to a hostile environment all of our own making. The true horror lies not in the viscera on display or the inability to feel pain but in our future that foresees evolving into plastic eating creatures or dying out completely. Unfortunately, this film dies out way before its end and is ultimately a disappointment. We expected more from this great filmmaker.