Syd: “She’s more than perfect… more than human.”
Dorian: “Celebrities aren’t people, they’re group hallucinations.”
The Canadian Horror film Antiviral got a decent amount of press in 2013, not necessarily for its content, but for its writer/director; Brandon Cronenberg is the son of the legendarily perverse David Cronenberg, creator of Dead Ringers and The Brood (among many disturbing others). Discussions regarding “how far the apple falls from the tree” have overshadowed examination of the film’s strengths and weaknesses, which begs an important questions: Does Antiviral stand on its own merits or is its appeal limited to those invested in the Cronenberg legacy? Will Brandon ever be able to step out from beneath his father’s gigantic shadow?
Read my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: ‘Antiviral’ follows Syd March, an employee at a clinic that sells injections of live viruses harvested from sick celebrities to obsessed fans. Biological communion – for a price. Syd also supplies illegal samples of these viruses to piracy groups, smuggling them from the clinic in his own body. When he becomes infected with the disease that kills super sensation Hannah Geist, Syd becomes a target for collectors and rabid fans. He must unravel the mystery surrounding her death before he suffers the same fate.
Antiviral is a 108 minute metaphor for Celebrity Worship and a fierce condemnation of a consumer culture likened to cannibalism—literally. In a dystopian near-future (very bleak and utilitarian) star-obsession has reached fever-pitched insanity. Fans eat “steaks” grown using celebrity muscle cells in labs that serve as butcher shops (a gruesome twist on the traditional meaning of a “Meat Market”). Mania is so distorted that even a celebrity’s imperfections (sometimes nauseating) are also fetishized and emulated.
Hard to swallow? Perhaps. While the message is spot-on, I found myself distracted by the believability of Antiviral’s premise. Does our society actually have the potential to devolve into something resembling Cronenberg’s vision? We’ve already seen celebrity drug addiction, for example, being glamorizing to the point of imitation. Still, the film’s concept of “Biological Communion” with disease and sickness seems seriously doubtful. So I found a way to suspend my disbelief by redefining the world of Antiviral. It’s a dystopian near-future, no doubt, but not necessarily on our plain of existence. It’s a pseudo-reality akin to a Twilight Zone or Naked Lunch universe. Things are this way because that’s just the way things are; accept it and look into Antiviral’s deeper themes and artistry, or don’t even bother.
Caleb Landry Jones as Syd is Antiviral’s driving force. His ginger hair and pale skin against his black suit gives him a ghostly, almost sinister aura—even before he’s afflicted with sickness. He’s both attractive and sleazy, pushing his product with the bullshit sincerity of a used car salesman. As his world descends into fevered hallucinations, Syd imagines himself a grotesque bio-mechanical marionette dispensing blood through a vent-like mouth. Neither protagonist or villain, Syd’s deepest motivations are not revealed until the film’s near pornographic final moments.
Antiviral is a sleek movie, shot primarily in shades of gray with well-placed splatters of red. If anything, it’s too sterile for a film with such messy themes. Sure, Syd pukes up blood (and basically rolls around in it) but in a brilliant white room with wall sized celebrity portraits smiling down on him it still feels sanitized. This isn’t to suggest that Antiviral isn’t grotesque (it is) but it’s somehow less nauseating than your typical Body Horror offering like Contracted or Thanatomorphose (or any number of films in the Sr. Cronenberg’s filmography). This might be a selling point for those of weak stomach, but it’s hard to imagine someone like that picking up Antiviral in the first place.
I hate bashing a film, but there are a few areas where the younger Cronenberg fumbles. First, the “Face of the Virus” was creepy in theory, but so scientifically far-fetched it comes off as artsy-fartsy bullshit. The soundtrack is also iffy, fluctuating between minimalist and trashy stoner techno. No thank you.
Antiviral is perhaps most poignant when illustrating the way society continues to consume celebrities even after the die, giving new and disturbing connotations to the concept of “Afterlife”.
Antiviral is a smart and well-made film with brilliantly dark satire. In the end, this film is easy to like but hard to love. Just like Syd March, it looks good as a whole but gets messy when dissected. It’s a film that might never have been made if not for Brandon’s famous daddy, but it is a decent flick. About 15 minutes too long, but very thought provoking and evocative.
3.5 out of 5 Dead Celebrities.
|Release Date||April 12 2013|
|Starring||Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Malcolm McDowell, Douglas Smith, Matt Watts, James Cade|
|Tagline||We can help…|