Jeff Goldblum is the scariest person in all of science fiction. Thanks to Jurassic Park and Portlandia, we tend to think of Goldblum as a caricature of himself. But his current reputation has unfairly eclipsed the whole reason he was so popular, to begin with. And for an entire generation of sci-fi horror fans, he starred in one of the most important movies of all time.
The Fly was inspired by a 1958 film of the same name, but the original was nowhere near as good as David Cronenberg’s 1986 update, and that’s because Cronenberg invented a new kind of horror movie and a new kind of science fiction movie at the same time. Many have written about how the director brought body horror into the mainstream, but what’s amazing about The Fly isn’t that it’s an effective horror movie with a slick sci-fi premise. It works because it’s presented so casually, even down-to-Earth.
It’s hardly a spoiler to say that a movie called The Fly involves a person becoming not-quite-human, but in case you haven’t seen it let’s just say this: before all the scary stuff happens and Jeff Goldblum starts to become unrecognizable, the strength of the movie is that it feels like a good indie comedy. You can almost see how Charlie Kaufman might have been inspired by The Fly. There’s a fairly obvious sci-fi premise in teleportation technology gone wrong, but the heart of the movie is actually a meet-cute romance not tonally dissimilar to something like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
The dialogue between Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis is fast, memorable, and balances realism with eccentricity. When The Fly was released, we didn’t really have the vocabulary to pigeonhole it because there had never been a movie quite like it. Saying it crosses genres is a little backhanded because it’s an amazing horror movie on its own. But it’s the romance that fuels it. As a sci-fi movie inside a tragic love story, The Fly checks all the boxes.
If you were to compare The Fly to something being made today, your best bet would be to imagine one of the lighter episodes of Black Mirror getting really gross, while also somehow being one of the greatest things you’ve ever seen. The Fly was praised by critics when it was released, but it’s only gotten better with age.
In 2021, we’re spoiled by “important” genre films. What’s amazing about The Fly is that there are no pretensions, no moments where you can tell the director wants you to be thinking big thoughts about humankind. The movie unfolds in an almost lazy, laidback way. When things start to get scary and gross, you’re still lulled into a sense of humorous security. The Fly suggests a great horror film doesn’t need a bunch of characters getting slaughtered by a monster to scare you. It only needs two people trying to figure out something very bizarre.
David Cronenberg accomplished more with two silly-looking teleportation pods than most productions do with a giant budget. Sci-fi horror has gotten bigger since The Fly, but it’s hard to say that it’s gotten much better. This is as good as the genre gets, and if you’ve never seen this movie, you’ll be lucky to experience it for the first time — while you still can.