By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Joe Pingue and Malcolm McDowell
A man named Cronenberg has made a film about the science behind human depravity. And his first name is not David. Instead, 33-year-old Brandon Cronenberg has followed his father’s lead by stepping into Hollywood as the writer and director of a dystopian nightmare film called Antiviral. Remember peoples’ obsession with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s muscles in the 80s? Or Jennifer Aniston’s hair in the 90s? How about today’s obsession with Kim Kardashian’s derriere? With Antiviral, the younger Cronenberg basically paints a white and red 112 minute microcosm about where this type of celebrity obsession could lead. Part science fiction, part horror, and part satire, Antiviral is no doubt going to be compared to the elder Cronenberg’s early work. Yet Brandon may have out Cronenberg-ed his father, as he laces puncturing needles (there are a lot of them), coughed up blood, and conspiracy ladened intrigue into seperate portions of his film, making it easy for anyone to get sucked into its story. However the wheels sort of start to fall off Antiviral around halfway in, as Cronenberg‘s script starts to feel a tad too self-absorbed.
The film’s premise is a good one. If a bit demented. Fans’ desperations to get as close to their celebrity heroes as they can has led to the formation of the Lucas Clinic, which harvests the blood of sick celebrities. People can literally have celebrities be a part of their lives by having their diseases, everything from colds to STDs, injected in their bodies. Syd March (Jones) is an employee of Lucas Clinic who has turned the business of harvesting celebrity viruses into his own gain. He copies and trades the viruses by injecting them into his own body and selling them on the black market to butcher Arvid (Pingue). After Syd decides to inject himself with the virus of beautiful tabloid mainstay Hannah Geist (Gadon), he experiences a hallucination filled night and wakes to find out she has died from the virus that he injected into himself. The rest of the film details March’s attempts to find out what he has in his body and how to cure it. Cronenberg and his cinematographer Karim Hussain have designed the sets to be simple yet atmospheric. Almost each frame is caked in a Kubrickian white, no doubt to punctuate the dark red blood that permeates a lot of the screen.
Antiviral’s first 30 minutes are outstanding, as Cronenberg sets the stage of who we are going to be taking this crazy ride with and injects our hero with the virus in question. He also throws in a wierder than weird subplot involving ‘cell steaks;‘ steaks injected with the cloned cells of celebrities. Who wouldn’t want to have a well done Stallone Steak? However, as perverse and creative that this portion is, it can’t hide the film’s faults. One of Antiviral’s problems is that it is technically masterful but narratively lacking. Cronenberg uses the white atmosphere for lots of coughed up blood. At first this was effective, but Cronenberg’s unwillingness to let up, turning the same trick over and over, became disconcerting to the point that I became desensitized to each subsequent time it happens. Also, after that tremendous first 30 minutes is up, Cronenberg loses control of his narrative, and the film’s morose atmosphere starts to work against it.However, this is not the fault of Antiviral’s cast. Gadon (who coincidently starred in the elder Cronenberg’s film from last year called Cosmopolis) radiates beauty off the screen to the point that it is easy to see her as tabloid fodder. Jones, who first came to my attention as Banshee in X-Men: First Class, has a chance to shine here. And quite honestly does very well. His androgynous look definitely lends itself to an off-color protagonist. Yet his suffering and desperation, which Cronenberg illustrates with hay fevers and, yes, vomiting blood, magnetises us to him, despite his less than honest side business. McDowell shows up ever too briefly, but his moments don’t go to waste, and these scenes move the film in the direction it eventually ends up.
If Antiviral does anything, it puts a stamp on Cronenberg’s arrival envelope to Hollywood. His atmospheric touch and National Enquirer sized warning to us about the dangers of worshipping celebrities jumps off the screen in a blood curdling fury. His tendency to not stop bashing us over the head with his film’s metaphoric situations (at one point, McDowell utters the phrase ’celebrities aren’t people, they are a group hallucination’) makes its good points almost hidden within Antiviral’s cinematic confines. Yet, between Jones’ great performance, EC Woodley’s fantastic mood creating synthesiser score, and some warranted questions about how far people are willing to go if given the chance, Antiviral does its job in unsettling an audience that has had to endure two horrible films about human centipedes. One only wonders how great Antiviral would have been had it answered the questions that it raises.
3 out of 5