Brandon Cronenberg is a new filmmaker with a famous last name. While he may have taken the celebrated Cronenberg family fascination with body horror to a genetic level in “Antiviral,” he also proves himself to be an exciting new voice in dark cinema.
“Antiviral” is the story of Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), a technician at Lucas Clinic, a lab that sells celebrity diseases to obsessed fans. For a price devotees of Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon) and others can become infected with actual cells from their idols. Herpes, skin flaps, the flu. You name it. Syd also supplies an underground market by smuggling copyrighted viruses out of the clinic in his own body. Soon, however, his bug bootlegging catches up with him when he ingests a deadly disease.
“Antiviral” works both as speculative fiction and satire.
Cronenberg creates a strange world that looks much like ours, but exists only in his imagination… for now. It’s a fame-obsessed world where celebrity operations are top news stories and people know the intimate details of their favorite star’s lives. It’s taken to extremes, but just to the other side of extreme. “Celebrities are not people,” the movie tells us, “they are mass hallucinations.” Tellingly we’re never told why the movie’s celebrities are famous, we’re just meant to accept that they are; that the hallucination of fame is enough. Rings true today. Just ask Kim Kardashian.
Satire blends with horror to create some of the film’s lasting images. There’s a butcher shop that literally feeds the public’s need to consume their favorite stars. The Sweeney Todd-esque butcher even has a celebrity cell garden where he grows “celebrity cell steaks.” Imagine a New and Improved Soylent Green with 50% More Celebrity! There are some grotesque images blended into these sequences, but the most horrifying is its plausibility; that this reflects our increasingly rabid celebrity culture, just tilted 180 degrees.
There is a cold, clinical feel to “Antiviral,” that recalls Cronenberg senior. It is, I guess, Brandon’s birthright, but it occasionally obscures the more humorous aspects of the story—celebrity ringworm for your dog, anyone?
“Antiviral” is strange speculative fiction, but it proves one thing—the apple doesn’t fall far form the tree, in either subject matter or filmmaking talent.
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