Films that purport to satirise, examine, or eviscerate the vacuous horrors of Hollywood often end up as fatuously empty and self-involved as their subject. Look at Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis’s pitiful The Canyons,  a classic case of people in glass houses merrily throwing bricks at themselves. Good job, then, that perennial outsider David Cronenberg clearly isn’t the least bit dazzled or seduced by the cultural cesspool of his latest movie, a tale of terminal Tinseltown wastrels with the twisted structure of a Greek tragedy and the rictus grin of a freshly poisoned sitcom.
On the contrary, Cronenberg observes the assortment of pestilential players in Bruce Wagner’s self-reflexive script with characteristic detachment, like a scientist watching bacteria multiplying in a Petri dish. The symptoms may be cultural rather than physical, but as with early films such as Rabid and Shivers, Cronenberg’s primary response to the display of disease is one of wry detachment – fascination rather than infatuation.
Mia Wasikowska  stars as burn-scarred Agatha, returning to the alienating womb of California after a lengthy period of enforced separation. Via the vagaries of social networking (a very Cronenbergian viral malaise), Agatha lands a job as “chore whore” for fading actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore , looking like Lindsay Lohan’s wicked stepsister) whose broiling neuroses are being treated by self-help media quack Dr Stafford Weiss (John Cusack ). Havana longs to land the lead role in a remake of a film that originally starred her mother (Sarah Gadon), a Hollywood legend who died in a fire and who now haunts her embittered, twisted daughter. Meanwhile, Bieberesque brat Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird) finds his star-crossed path inevitably intertwined with that of Agatha despite the best efforts of his mother, Cristina (Olivia Williams), to preserve and exploit the precocious monster whom she and her charlatan husband have spawned.
If The Brood  (an early body-horror gem starring Samantha Eggar) was Cronenberg’s Kramer vs Kramer, then Maps is his Sunset Boulevard , with sprinklings of Chinatown , Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Mommie Dearest thrown in for good measure. At the centre of it all is Moore, magnificently horrendous as the needy-greedy Havana, wallowing in the amniotic fluid of her own narcissistic self-loathing – a sick, siren-like performance of parasitic perfection. There’s something of Eggar’s Nola Carveth in Moore’s Gorgon-like creation; watching Havana sitting in the lotus position, screaming in fury at the world, you half expect her to sprout boils from which the ravenous children of her rage will spill to wreak bloody havoc in the Hollywood hills.There’s more than a hint of The Brood’s “Psychoplasmics”, too, in Dr Weiss’s hands-on therapy, which physicalises Havana’s fury with no discernible benefit beyond the financial; the genre and shape of rage may have changed, but Cronenberg’s core psychodramatic concerns remain a constant.
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