Antiviral marks the directorial debut of the offspring of the acclaimed master of fucking weird; David Cronenberg. I came in to this film extremely curious as to what kind of director Brandon would be. Would he reject the types of films his father made and find his own style or would he embrace his heritage and try to “out-weird” the old man? It’s safe to say after watching it that it’s the latter.
Antiviral stars Caleb Landry Jones as Syd March. You will probably know him best playing a young Banshee in X-Men: First class. Here his acting chops are put to the test as he plays Mister March who works for a company which in this not too distant future or perhaps even an alternate reality (not too sure) harvests celebrity illnesses and injects them in to paying customers. Celebrity infatuation has reached some truly twisted heights. How twisted you ask? Well let’s just say that a strange kind of cannibalism is putting it lightly.
Syd is something of a double agents. In his day to day he is a productive member of the corporate team that sells celebrity illness with gusto. The real money of course is in the black market stuff and he uses his access to the viral stock to infect himself and effectively “steal” the diseases in order to re-sell them on the secondary market.
One such celebrity client is Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon) who is not only one of the worlds most sought after celebrities but also the exclusive partner for Syd’s company. On a routine sampling Syd injects himself with far more than he bargained for. A deadly manufactured viral agent that slowly and painfully kills its host. Syd must find a cure to save his life but to do that he must first discover who made the virus and why.
I was aware of the films premise well beforehand having heard a lot about it from the horror community. I had the slight expectation that I was about the be bludgeoned in the head with the concept that if we don’t change our celebrity obsessed culture this is the world we have to look forward to. While, I welcome social commentary in my movie watching experience I find that all too often the exaggerated take on a current trend in the world is in fact the only thing these movies have going for them. I’m happy to say that there is so much more going on here on top of the commentary.
This is a brilliant and well crafted story that touches on more than mob mentality when it comes to celebrities and touches on what fame is. It proposes how we ourselves can use celebrities to replace the emptiness in our lives like a new religion because it’s more tangible.
Anyone squeamish around blood or needles should probably stay at home. Not only are the injection shots graphic and numerous. They’re also real. The brief moments of gore are well worth it and nothing is without purpose. The real triumph here is with Caleb Landry Jones’ performance. Had a lesser actor been put in his place there is no doubt in my mind this film would have not had half the impact. That isn’t to say there isn’t a wonderful cast surrounding him, especially with the added boon of Malcolm McDowell in the cast.
For his first film coming out the gate Brandon Cronenberg has a lot to be proud of. It would be easy to throw away his involvement in the film industry as nothing but nepotism but at the end of the day. You still have your name on a movie that you wrote and directed that will cause you to sink or swim. This is a thoughtful, brilliant, and downright messed up original work that like his father’s films before him is almost unclassifiable. Except if you’re going with the aforementioned “Cronenberg”.