It's now 26 years since David Cronenberg made his last horror movie, Dead Ringers. In the intervening years he's moved further away from that genre, and as a result his best work is fading into the past. Maps to the Stars isn't a return to the horror genre, though its characters are as horrific as they come, but it is a return to form as the Canadian director's best work since that 1988 film.
It won't win any awards for originality. Hollywood has been satirising itself for most of its existence, but Cronenberg's attack is a particularly twisted take on tinseltown. A dark comic tale with surreal touches, Maps to the Stars feels like a collaboration between David Lynch and Larry David. It has the cheap video aesthetic of Inland Empire and Curb Your Enthusiasm, overexposing its characters in every sense of the word.
Pyromaniac Agatha (Wasikowska) returns to her hometown of Hollywood, having been released from a rehab center. Her parents, self-help guru Stafford (Cusack) and Cristina (Williams) are none too happy about her reappearance, as Agatha is privy to a dark secret about the couple. Meanwhile, Agatha takes a production assistant job for actress Havana (Moore), a pill-popping paranoiac who gives Sunset Boulevard's Norma Desmond a run for her money in the crazy stakes.
It's the cast that elevates Cronenberg's film above most of the "Aren't Hollywood folk horrid?" dramas we've seen in the past. While Julianne Moore pulls out all the stops in her portrayal of a Mommy-obsessed straitjacket case, it's young Evan Bird who steals the show as Benji, a Bieber-esque teen star and son of Stafford and Cristina. Despite being 13, he's already been through rehab, and spends his time guzzling giant cans of energy drink and dispensing putdowns like the bastard son of Joan Rivers and Patrick Bateman.
The premise of Maps to the Stars might be somewhat timeworn, but there's an undeniable pleasure in watching its cast essay such a rogues gallery with relish.