Antiviral Movie Review
Written by Ted McCarthy
Written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg
2012, 108 minutes, Not Rated
Caleb Landry Jones as Syd March
Sarah Gadon as Hannah Geist
Joe Pingue as Arvid
Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Abendroll
Nowadays we can barely boot up our computers, turn on our televisions, open our newspapers (ha! Remember those?), or set foot out of our homes without hearing snippets of the latest celebrity gossip. From publicized domestic disputes to ten-day marriages, from divorces to drug offenses, we simply can’t seem to get enough of the most private information about the rich and famous. But has our current obsession with these celebrities reached an unhealthy level? This question is posed explicitly and implicitly in Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral, at once a tense horror thriller and a scathing indictment of our society’s voracious appetite for the sensational.
The film takes place in one of those “not too distant future” cities where normal citizens are so overtaken with celeb fever that they pay corporations to infect them with viruses that have been harvested from their favorite stars and starlets in order to “be at one” with their idols. Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones, The Last Exorcism) works for the Lucas Clinic, the leading provider of marketable celebrity diseases (imagine if the CDC had a sales division). We first see Syd as he pitches a herpes simplex virus to a rabid (no pun intended) fan of actress and model Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon), telling him that the appearance of the sores on his face will look as though Hannah kissed him. Trembling with excitement, the fan forks over the cash, and later in the film we see him with the infection spread across his face. Ick!
Unbeknownst to anyone, though, Syd also supplies the valuable viruses to the black market by smuggling them out of the clinic in his own body and delivering them to Arvid (Joe Pingue), who also runs a popular butcher shop specializing in meat synthesized from celebrity muscle tissue (how crazy is this movie?!). Things get complicated for Syd when he infects himself with the new flu bug that’s stricken Hannah, only to learn that she died from it. He then has to race to find the reason behind her death as well as a cure for himself as his mind and his body begin to rapidly deteriorate.
Horror fans will sit up and take notice when they hear the film is written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg. Yes, he is the direct offspring of David Cronenberg, who over his career has all but perfected the body horror film with movies like The Brood, Videodrome, and The Fly. This is my favorite horror subgenre, and arguably the most terrifying. We can fight and flee from zombies, ghosts, and mad slashers. But how can we escape when it’s our own bodies that revolt against us, rendering us both the victim and the killer? Papa Cronenberg’s early films used horror to examine the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, as in Shivers and Rabid. Here, Brandon satirizes a more social epidemic of celebrity mania, but keeps it so grounded in reality that you think maybe it’s just a matter of time before you really can actually have a piece of Kim Kardashian’s ass.
If you rate your typical horror film “yuck” factor on a one to 10 scale, Cronenberg Junior cranks it up to about a 13. While the film isn’t really gory or overly violent, the havoc that various diseases wreak on Syd’s and other characters’ bodies from the inside out (hallucinations, spitting up blood) is very disturbing to watch. The film itself looks slick but inexpensive, with the Lucas Clinic being little more than white walls divided by glass. The performances are solid, and while I was skeptical about Jones as a lead actor, he is good as a guy whose health and life begin to spiral gruesomely out of control.
I’ve been salivating for the release of Antiviral ever since I first read about its development in Rue Morgue magazine over a year ago. It was my most anticipated movie of 2013, and I’m so happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed (like I was with my number two film, The ABC’s of Death…woof). If this is what Brandon Cronenberg can do on his first film out the gate, I can’t wait to see what he’s got lined up next.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Video, audio and special features will not be graded as this was a screening.
Note, the screenshots are from the official site.