David Cronenberg’s nihilistic take on Hollywood in Maps to the Stars pulls back the curtains of celebrity life and those with ruthless ghosts from their pasts leading them on a path of destruction. Sometimes fascinating, unflinching and darkly humorous, Cronenberg’s latest is a spider web of a story that sees a handful of people linked to one another in the unlikeliest of ways, shining a bright light on a Hollywood nightmare.
There aren’t many minds in cinema quite like David Cronenberg’s, so when he focuses his lens on the very world in which he himself has left an iconic impression on, the result is a satirical jab at an industry with plenty of hidden demons of its own. And that’s the main focus of Maps to the Stars, filled with over the top characters with more skeletons in their closet than a William Castle film.
Led by an A-list cast (Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, John Cusack and Sarah Gadon) the characters are, unsurprisingly, the real driving force behind the film (for better or worse) because the plot is a simple, one-way-street kind of narrative that never quite feels like it’s going anywhere worthwhile; you’re just a fly on the wall as you watch these people hit rock bottom.
But this is where the real issue lies with Maps to the Stars. For a film so heavily driven by its individual characters, there’s not a single one worth caring about. And while that was no doubt Cronenberg’s intention, I felt it did more harm than good. Aside from Mia Wasikowska’s Agatha, who is truly unsettling, everyone else feels hollow and lost in Cronenberg’s strange world.
It’s frustrating, too, because there was a lot going for Maps to the Stars, especially with the way Cronenberg injected some psychological torment into it. Seeing the already fragile-minded being further destroyed by relentless ghosts gave this one a nice horrific quality, but it’s ultimately wasted on characters who are impossible to sympathize with.
The film spirals towards the inevitable, offering no closure for any of its characters and leaving behind more questions than it had answers for. It’s not necessarily a bad movie, it’s just an empty one that teases greatness before going up in flames. And speaking of flames, there’s a scene in this movie with the worst CGI fire I have ever seen in a movie. Somehow, the brilliantly talented director behind some of the greatest practical effect-driven films ever created… messed up fire.