Fantastic Fest ’12: Antiviral – Review



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David Cronenberg’s son is a chip of the ol’ fleshy mound of biomachinery

As unfair as it is to the filmmaker, it’s impossible to watch Antiviral and not consider the influence Brandon Cronenberg’s father may have had on the young director. Brandon, the son of David, has created a film that deftly explores the body horror sub-genre that the elder Cronenberg has become the patron saint thanks to his work on films such as The Fly and Videodrome.

In the future, celebrity worship has gotten a tad out of hand. No longer are people content simply reading about their favorite pop stars on TMZ, they want to interact with them and – when a one-on-one meeting isn’t available – everyday people are willing to have those interactions on a genetic level by paying to be injected with samples of viruses that have been harvested from the rich and famous. In addition to this lucrative (and legal) business – tightly controlled through a new technology that allows technicians to copy-protect the viruses as they would an MP3 – the black-market is full of other examples of celebrity-worship gone awry – including meat markets that sell edible tissue samples cloned from the DNA of celebrities.

The strength of Antiviral is its sense of invention. So many science fiction films are content to take a tired idea, twist it about and give it a fresh coat of paint. Deconstructing the true and tested has led to some great movies but far too many times the end result is something that feels overly stale and done to death. For Antiviral, Cronenberg stretches his creative muscles and lets loose with some truly original ideas including the way companies manipulate the viruses – by giving them a face and letting their technicians use their innately enhanced power of facial recognition and communication to manipulate the virus. These bits of science fiction dip their toes into science fantasy but the result feels new and fresh.

Another strength of the film is Caleb Landry Jones, the young Texan actor who carries much of Antiviral on his back. As Syd March, Landry Jones plays a salesman for one of the premiere clinics responsible for selling the public the celebrity-endorsed viruses they so crave. On the side, though, March also has a lucrative job smuggling samples of the viruses out of the clinic, removing the copy protection and then selling them on the black market. Unfortunately, this moonlighting lands March in trouble when he injects himself with a blood sample of one of the world’s most desired celebrities, Hannah Geist, only to learn a few days later that Geist has died of whatever mysterious disease March currently has incubating in his person.

At this point, March is forced into something larger than he could have anticipated – a conspiracy with ties to rival pharmaceutical companies, the black-market connects March had considered friends and a mysterious doctor played by Malcolm McDowell.

Antiviral is not quite exactly a perfect replica of David Cronenberg’s filmography. While certain visual flourishes (including a hallucinatory fever dream in March imagines himself becoming one with the machinery he uses to manipulate the viruses), Brandon Cronenberg easily establishes his own visual style – one grounded in a sterile, detached viewpoint.

With his debut film, Cronenberg has established himself as a very promising talent to watch. While he seems to be treading similar territory as his father, he is doing so with equal parts talent and ambition. If Antiviral is the opening shot to a career that mirrors his fathers, Brandon Cronenberg should become just as respected and beloved a filmmaker in the eyes of genre fans as his father.

Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Notable Cast: Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon and Malcolm McDowell
Writers: Brandon Cronenberg

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