Remakes get a bit of bad reputation and a lot of them probably deserve it but some film-makers successfully take the original premise and truly make the story their own. John Carpenter’s film The Thing is one such film and David Cronenberg’s take on the 1958 science fiction film The Fly is definitely another. With Cronenberg’s use of body horror it doesn’t have sudden shock reveal of the original film but instead we get the slow revolting deterioration of the scientist’s mind and body. It is a very visceral film and it’s certainly not one to watch while eating.
Nerdy scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is trying unsuccessfully to chat up science journalist Veronica ‘Roni’ Quaife (Geena Davis) at a science fair but he is persistent and he eventually succeeds in convincing her to come back to his lab to see what’s on the slab. She’s a bit concerned by the look of the run-down warehouse but inside it is set up with a hi-tech lab and separate rooms for a living area. Roni is still sure that she just been picked up so she wasn’t paying attention to his teleport pods but Seth insist on giving her a demonstration. He asks for a personal item and she gives him one of her stockings. He places the stocking into one of the pair of pods and activates the teleportation sequence on his computer. With a flash the stocking disappears from the first pod and Roni thinks he just destroyed it but Seth explains that he teleported it and he opens the second pod and lets her pick up the stocking. Roni has started to grasp the significance of what Seth has created and she switches on her tape recorder and asks him a few questions about how it works and how he came up with it. After a few minutes the recorder beeps to indicate it’s at the end of the tape. Ron pulls it out to turn the tape over and Seth panics. He really isn’t ready to talk to the press and Roni says she is the press. Seth apologises and asks her to leave.
Next day she plays her tape her editor (and former lover) Stathis Borans John Getz and he thinks it was just conjuring trick he used to impress her. Roni insist it was real but Stathis is jealous and that’s probably behind his scepticism. Seth appears in the office to take Roni to lunch. She can’t understand why he’s reluctant for publicity but once more he says it’s not ready. He explains that the pods can only teleport non-living things. He wants to Roni to record his research as he tries to solve this problem. Roni agrees to sit on her story in favour of getting the whole story from the inside.
When Roni gets back to her apartment she hears the shower going. It’s Stathis in her shower and he still has a copy of her key. Stathis has been researching Seth and found out he is genius. Roni tells him she’s not working on that story any more but Stathis doesn’t believe her. She makes him leave but he still keeps her door key.
Seth is trying to teleport a living creature in this case a baboon and the result is gruesome. It has turned the baboon inside out. Seth thinks that the problem is that the computer doesn’t understand flesh because he hasn’t taught it how and to do that he has to understand flesh himself. As if that’s her cue Roni tells him he’s cute and they make love.
Afterwards Seth is thinking about the problem of teaching the computer about the flesh. Roni says that she thinks flesh makes you crazy. This gives Seth an idea and he tries an experiment. He cuts a steak in half and teleports one half then cooks both halves together. He gets Roni to try the unteleported bit first and it’s just a normal steak. When she tries the teleported bit it tastes wrong that it tastes synthetic. Seth says that the computer is approximating the steak but it doesn’t go crazy for the flesh. He gets busy trying to teach the computer how.
Another day and Seth is putting another baboon through the teleport and it comes out of the experience healthy and seemingly unharmed. Roni asks what the next step is and Seth says he has to send the baboon to be tested and that will take a couple of weeks. Roni suggests that they could go on a vacation together. They start celebrating and she spots a large envelope from the magazine. It’s from Stathis and it’s a front page layout featuring Seth and a headline revealing his teleportation technology. Roni is furious and tells Seth she has to go sort something out.
At the magazine Roni wants to know what Stathis is up to. It is just pure spite and when Roni says that she’s working with Seth and he will have the whole story to publish if he just gives her time. Stathis agrees with her fairly quickly and accepts that she’s moved on but asks if they can still have sex.
Back in the lab Seth is getting drunk on his own starts getting irrationally jealous about Roni going to see her ex. As he gets drunk he gets reckless too and is dismissive of the need to wait for tests on the baboon. He charges up the system strips off and gets into a pod. He does not notice a fly enter the pod too just before the door closes. The teleport initiates and in a flash he vanishes from the first pod and emerges whole and apparently unharmed.
When Roni comes back not long afterwards she’s not happy to hear that Seth went through the teleport. Seth admits he was stupid but he says he was jealous but he got it on tape for her. Roni assures him that there’s nothing between her and Stathis and they make love. During the night Seth hears a fly buzzing around and he catches it easily – a first hint that things have changed.
Next morning Roni finds Seth is in his lab. Seth doesn’t say anything but instead starts showing off his strength and acrobatic skills. In contrast at a coffee shop he barely stops talking, speculating that the computer may have improved him somehow. To be frank he’s babbling and he seems to be absently spooning a lot of sugar into his coffee. Later in bed he seems to also have increased his sexual stamina because he wears Roni out. As Roni hugs him she finds strange coarse hairs coming out of a scratch in his back. She fetches scissors and cuts some of the off, putting them into a little bag. They are incredibly tough and Roni’s concerned about them even if Seth isn’t worried.
Seth has gotten almost manic in extolling the virtues of being teleported. He really wants Roni to try it but she is scared. Seth goes off on an angry rant at her confirming her fears that something is wrong with him and she leaves Seth is now obsessed with the idea of sending someone else through the teleport. He goes to a cheap bar and sees two patrons arm wrestling over who will take out a woman Tawny (). Seth says he wants to compete too and the men agree thinking it will be a quick easy victory. He arm wrestles the larger of the two men and doesn’t just beat the man but snaps his arm. This bit of unnecessary ultra-violence seems to impress the woman and she leaves with Seth.
Seth takes Tawny back to the lab. He teleports himself then has sex with her. After that he tells her he wants her to go through the teleport but he’s not happy with that idea. She says she’s afraid and Seth tries to reassure her but Roni comes in just then and says to Tawny “Be afraid, be very afraid.” Tawny has had enough and she grabs her stuff and leaves. Roni had the hairs she cut off Seth’s back tested and they weren’t human hair but insect hairs. Something went wrong during the teleportation and he looks and smells bad. Of course Seth doesn’t listen and just flips out at her and she leaves.
Later in the bathroom Seth finds the hair on his beard is too coarse for his electric razor. One of his teeth falls out, his finger tips are pustulent and his fingernails are coming out. He checks the computer logs of the teleportation and sees the computer reference a second element that it cannot name. Seth works back through the records and isolates the second element which he can identify as a fly. The computer spliced them together into one being combining their DNA.
Some weeks later Seth contacts Roni. He’s a mess and wants to see her. He’s needs walking sticks to walk and he’s lost all of his teeth. His ear falls while she’s there and Seth seems very frightened. He tells her what happened and he thinks the fly DNA is showing as a type of cancer.
Roni tells Stathis about what happened to Seth and Stathis asks her to make video of Seth. When she returns to the lab Seth has transformed again and is happily scuttling about on the ceiling. He’s happy to give Roni a demonstration of his new eating habits and although we don’t see it we hear it and her it described enough to turn the stomach, especially when we see the reactions of Stathis as he watches it.
Roni later finds out that’s she’s pregnant and the father is Seth. She is really worried about this and asks Stathis what she should do and he thinks she might be being hasty Stathis takes her to a clinic.. In the theatre everything goes smoothly until they suddenly pull a large squirming maggot out of her. And she wakes from her nightmare.
Seth is trying to work out a way to decrease the proportion of fly DNAin his system and and thinks they being merged with another human might help. Roni goes to see Seth one last time and I think she was going to tell him about the pregnancy and her thoughts of an abortion in but in the end she doesn’t. Seth indicates that his thought processes are becoming more brutal and warns her that if she returns he’ll kill her. She returns to Stathis who is waiting in the car outside to take her to an abortion clinic. Seth hears them talk about where they are going.
At the clinic the doctor is concerned about the haste but agrees to do it. Roni is waiting in a hospital room when Seth comes crashing through the window. He grabs Roni and takes her to the roof. He’s upset that she was going to kill his baby.
Stathis gets his shotgun and goes to the lab to try to kill Seth and rescue Roni. He get jumped by Seth who vomits corrosive digestive juices over his hand. He does to his leg and is just about to do it to his face too but Roni begs him to stop.
Seth brings Roni down into teh lab and tells her plans to merge the three of them together, father, mother and child. Roni really doesn’t want to do that and his jaw which comes right off. This triggers another transformation into a creature that can’t be recognised as even vaguely human but initiates the process and forces her into one of the pods and closes the door. He enters the second pod. Stathis picks up the shotgun and shoots the cable connecting Roni’s pod. In apanic Sethe triesto break out of his pod bythe teleport flashes and from the third pod emerges the fused monstrosity of Seth, the fly and parts of pod. The pathetic creature lifts the barrel of the shotgun that Roni is holding to its head, begging for death and Roni is merciful and blows its head off.
For such a big budget well-known film there seems to be very little dilution of the typical Cronenberg body horror and this film really feels like one of his rather than a remake churned out a company that only cares about exploiting a familiar name for profit. Jeff Goldblum is just brilliant as Seth Brundle waxing poetically about the dream he has for his technology or of his decay into twisted chimera. Goldblum does technobabble so well because he seems to embrace how ridiculous it sounds.