The Shrouds review: "A dry, disappointing effort from David Cronenberg"

The Shrouds
(Image: © Pyramide)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

A dry, disappointing Cronenberg effort, one whose overly cerebral nature never truly translates into anything exciting or relevant.

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The Shrouds had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Here's our review. 

In 2022 David Cronenberg returned after an eight-year hiatus with Crimes of the Future, a twisted, sexually charged tale containing echoes of the body-horror-fixated work of the Canadian auteur’s earlier films. The Shrouds, his latest movie, is morbidly obsessed with the body too, but only in its decomposing state. 

Vincent Cassel takes the lead as Karsh, a man still processing the loss of his beloved wife Becca (Diane Kruger), who was taken by breast cancer. In tranquil surroundings, Karsh has founded a restaurant with an adjoining high-tech cemetery. Each gravestone has digital screens, allowing loved ones to observe the corpse of those they’ve buried, slowly decaying in real time. With cameras inside the coffins, you can even have pictures transmitted to your phone. It’s an intriguingly grim idea, typical of Cronenberg, but one that never truly takes flight in an overly talky story that tells as much as it shows.

In what feels like a nod to 1988 Cronenberg classic Dead Ringers, Kruger also plays Becca’s identical twin sister Terri, to whom Karsh grows close over the course of the film. Becca was previously married to IT engineer Maury (Guy Pearce, deliciously down-at-heel); further intrigue is generated by Karsh’s relationship with an elegant-looking blind woman and by an attack on the cemetery that has possible political and environmental motivations.  

All of which, alas, adds up to very little in a film that muses on life, death, grief and the forces that move us in decidedly muted fashion. Cassel, who was far more vigorous in his earlier Cronenberg collaborations (Russian-gangster tale Eastern Promises and Freud/Jung saga A Dangerous Method), handles his role well enough, but can’t really bring either the character or the film to life. A rather uninvolving conspiracy plot doesn’t exactly help matters, nor the drably efficient visual palette. (DoP Douglas Koch also lensed Crimes of the Future.)

As ever, Cronenberg leaves you with much to chew on, but dramatically The Shrouds feels rather inert, as if it can’t get out of second gear. At least Kruger gets to show range with her dual performance, demonstrating what an underrated talent she is. But as a Cronenberg film, The Shrouds is unlikely to trouble anyone’s list of his best films. 

The Shrouds' release date is currently TBC. For more from Cannes, here's our Megalopolis review and our The Substance review.

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Freelance writer

James Mottram is a freelance film journalist, author of books that dive deep into films like Die Hard and Tenet, and a regular guest on the Total Film podcast. You'll find his writings on GamesRadar+ and Total Film, and in newspapers and magazines from across the world like The Times, The Independent, The i, Metro, The National, Marie Claire, and MindFood.