Any time you have the child of a famous director entering in their father’s footsteps, they are held in a certain light – which can be both a good and bad thing. Brandon Cronenberg follows closely in his father David’s shadow. Inspired by the films like Videodrome, Shivers and Scanners, Antiviral can best described as body horror lite. He shows great potential as a fledgling director by taking the best elements from his father and combining them with his own unique voice.
Set five minutes in the future, Antiviral stars Caleb Landry Jones as Syd March, a pale freckled ginger. He works for the Lucas Agency, a company that specialises in giving people celebrity viruses. Getting the latest cold sore from Brad Pitt or herpes Lindsay Lohan is the ultimate way close to your favorite celebrity. But with any “must have” item, the black market is thriving. Syd injects himself with different viruses in order to smuggle them out of the clinic and sells them to Arvid (Joe Pingue), a butcher who also sells the viruses.
When Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon) comes down with a new illness, Syd is sent out to retrieve it. Of course he takes a bit for himself by injecting her blood into him. A few hours later, Syd has a high fever and passes out; when he wakes up, he discovers that Hannah has died and now he must find a cure while being pursued by an assortment of people that want to get their hands on that virus.
Brandon shows a lot of promise in his debut feature. His father’s influence is heavily felt here – the body horror themes present in the elder Cronenberg’s works are fully realised – but having written and directed the film, this is Brandon’s work and he owns it. He presents interesting ideas about how people will do anything to be close to their favorite star. Watching them through film, TV and the internet isn’t enough – what if you could eat meat from their cloned cells or get the same flu that they had? Wouldn’t that give you the ultimate high? You could lay in bed suffering just like them.
Antiviral is a difficult watch. The film is sparse, not just in design but also in dialogue. The action rests entirely on Caleb Landry Jones. Enjoyment of the film will depend on how much you like Jones and his performance, as the rest of the cast are bland shells that have little or nothing to do. Jones spends most of the film looking pale and disheveled as he is constantly sick from one bug or another.
Ultimately Antivirus is a sterile film with big ideas but little to keep the audience engaged. Nevertheless, the younger Cronenberg shows great potential and I look forward to his future work. He slowly unfurls his world giving the audience small pieces in order to build the larger picture. It’s a shallow, petty world where people clamour for their moment to be close to celebrities. The first two acts are tense and intriguing, but by the third act and the crime thriller aspects kick in, the film crawls to a hault.
The world of Antiviral is sterile and uncomfortably white. The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Karim Hussain and the white-on-white color pallet makes the film uncomfortable and alien.
Antiviral has lots of great ideas and shows much promise from the young director. With a couple of more films under his belt, Cronenber Jr will hopefully be able to step out from his father’s shadow.
Antiviral screened at the Fantastik Filmfestival in Lund, Sweden. The festival is from 20-29 September. Go to fff.se to see the festival lineup.