(15) Running time: 103 minutes
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Writer: Brandon Cronenberg
Cast: Caleb Landry Jones, Lisa Berry, Sarah Gadon, Malcolm McDowell
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish
The old saying “like Father, like Son” could not be more true here as David Cronenberg’s son, Brandon, bursts onto the scene with his directorial debut. Showing the warped love of body horror and the sheer flamboyant genius of his father, Brandon has done his old man proud with Antiviral, a sickening, highly intelligent and truly grotesque look at the disturbing world of celebrity obsession.
In Antiviral, Caleb Landry Jones excellently portrays Syd March, a man who works for a company which sells celebrity diseases to obsessed fans. They extract the disease from the celebrity, and after ‘copywriting’ it and making it un-contagious to others, the company can then inject the disease to fans for a high price so that the fans can feel “closer” to their idols. March happily sells fans these diseases while spinning them the same sales pitch to make them want the disease more. One customer even wants a particular disease injected into his left arm so he can make out that the celebrity kissed him! In one sales pitch, there is even a brief nod to one of David Cronenberg’s classics as Syd talks of a disease and says it “gives me the shivers”. However, fans want the infections, and the company is more than happy to sell them.
As a side job, Syd also injects himself with the diseases, and once at home he swabs his nose to collect said disease, copyrights it himself, and sells it on the black market. One of his main clients is a man who runs a bizarre food shop where celebrity muscle cells are grown to create a grey-ish coloured meat which customers buy, again to feel closer to their favoured celebrity. The idea of celebrity obsession is taken to a whole new level here by Cronenberg, and what we see is very disturbing indeed. While fans queue up for the latest batch of celebrity meat, get excited about catching the latest celebrity cold, or even have round-the-clock celebrity news channels on TV, companies like March’s can make easy money. However, while this fan obsession is sickening to watch, in some cases it can’t be too far off the truth as today’s regular folk become more and more obsessed with their idols.
March gets an exclusive on a new disease which has just infected a sexy female celebrity, and after one of his colleagues at work falls ill and dies, March is sent to ‘collect’ the disease. Being the first of its kind and in high demand, he takes a sample for himself, and after injecting himself with the virus, things turn nasty. The unknown virus begins killing him, and suddenly March finds himself in a race against time to not only find a cure for the disease, but also hide from underground black market groups who want the disease for themselves. What follows is a thrilling race to uncover the truth, and a dark and disturbing collapse into serious illness.
Landry-Jones commands the screen in one of the finest breakthrough performances you will ever see. Yes he made a pretty good impression in X-Men: First Class, but in Antiviral Jones is on the screen 100% of the time, and gives 110% in his utterly convincing and chilling performance. In the early stages he is sinister as the man who gets you to buy a disease, and Cronenberg builds up his creepy character by plenty of slow motion shots of him walking. Accompanied by utterly disturbing music, March becomes the stuff of nightmares. His ginger ponytail, pale white skin and blinding freckles make him look almost otherworldly. As the disease takes hold and he begins deteriorating, his character takes on a menacing new form as he struggles to walk, and coughs up blood. He really does become the stuff of horror stories, and Jones is terrific in the role and so convincing you will often forget that he is actually acting.
Cronenberg directs with bizarre ease, and the skills clearly inherited from his Father are displayed in some truly amazing visuals, creepy music and expert filming style. A mid-point high sees the disease take hold of March as he suffers a truly horrific nightmare: body horror, slow motion shots and disturbing sounds prove that this is indeed a Cronenberg film. It is a wonderful moment, and even if the entire film does not convince you, moments like this prove Brandon has a lot of ideas to share. While the subject matter is chilling enough, Brandon helps matters by giving the film is cold, clinical feel. Strong colourless whites are used to emphasise much darker things like blood trickling, or a syringe entering the skin (be warned, there are hundreds of needle shots here!), and while the feel of the film is cold and clinical, Cronenberg manages to make the usually “open” feel of strong whites very claustrophobic.
Antiviral has ideas bursting out of its seams, and for a first film, this is truly something to be respect and be amazed at. Brandon Cronenberg has arrived on the scene with a dark, chilling and twisted tale of celebrity obsession that has that unique Cronenberg spin on it that takes it to places few directors would dare enter. Fans of David Cronenberg’s early work will love this, and fans of something a little different, very disturbing but with ideas aplenty will be amazed at the balls and brilliance of Antiviral. A clever, unique little film that introduces the world to a brand new talent in all things strange. Antiviral is stunning.