Review: Antiviral

This review was originally posted during our Fantastic Fest coverage in September 2012.  With the film’s U.S. release upon us, it is getting re-posted.

Brandon Cronenberg – son of David Cronenberg – knocks it out of the park with his feature debut, Antiviral, a poignant, subversive tale that, at times, provokes its viewer and stirs something within them as the film serves as a bitter, sometimes infuriating and intelligent reminder that the state of our celebrity-obsessed culture has grown steadily worse and could get a lot more horrifying.

Antiviral is also a deeply fascinating mystery set in an equally fascinating world created by Cronenberg that is reminiscent of his father’s early, angrier works.  There’s no ignoring this familiarity when, in one scene, leading man Caleb Landry Jones is seen sprouting cables from the flesh of his wrists and a sporting a bleeding filter where his mouth should be.  The nature of the story, itself, carries shades of David’s ouevre, still, Brandon makes the film his own…and what a delicious, haunting ride it is.

Jones plays Syd March, an employee at the Lucas Clinic, a company thriving on customers who are willing to purchase viruses culled from the blood of sick celebrities.  From herpes to the common cold, if it’s available, there’s a client willing to “share” a virus with one of their favorite celebs who willingly enter into contract agreements with clinics like Lucas.  March has a side operation going, however, and he uses his own body to carry certain viruses and sell them on the black market.  One day, he extracts – and injects himself with – a virus from the gorgeous tabloid princess Hannah Geist only to learn, days later, that she has died from said sickness.  Fearing for his own life, March sets out to discover where Geist contracted the virus in a hope to find a cure.

Of course, in Cronenbergian fashion, there are more layers and conspiracies at play and even more characters on the chess board March has to contend with like, for instance, a meat shop owner that sells “steaks” grown from the cells of celebrity flesh.  In Antiviral, you don’t just worship your idol, you can ingest a piece of them as well.

It’s ideas like that that make Antiviral so engaging, even if you do lose track of the convoluted details surrounding March’s investigation.  At times, the film tends to get a bit self-absorbed, deliberately filling itself with weirdness at risk of killing the pace, but when things get back on track, it works.  And works really well, creeping under your skin and thriving there – steadily making you feel uneasy as Jones deteriorates on screen in a terrific performance.  His Syd March character is an interesting character who is part salesman, part client (in some respects) himself.  But it’s Landry who makes this guy pop off the screen, not the character’s personality.  He’s no Max Renn, let’s say, but he could have been.

As far as details and world-building go, Cronenberg delivers.  The devices of March’s business, such as a machine that gives a “face” to a virus, are creative and cool; and the incessant trashy, tabloid television and magazines that litter the film’s background (all focusing on the minutiae of some celebrity’s life) are morbidly and perversely funny.  Antiviral, also, loves to favor using Hannah Geist’s blond and blue-eyed visage (she’s played by the knock-out beauty Sarah Gadon).  She quite literally is the face of the film, seen in ads and on walls.  Cronenberg pushes her on us so much, we almost build an obsession with her ourselves which is a chilling and dangerous thing for Antiviral to do.

The film was picked up by IFC is expected to hit the U.S. in early 2013, do yourself a favor and do not miss it.


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