Review: Antiviral / Cert: TBC / Director: Brandon Cronenberg / Screenplay: Brandon Cronenberg / Starring: Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gordon, Malcolm McDowell, Douglas Smith / UK Release Date: Out Now
Brandon Cronenberg (son of David) has written and directed an intense and disturbing debut film looking at society’s increasing obsession with celebrity. Getting to the sick heart of this cultural disease, Cronenberg has created a white walled world that delivers a claustrophobic film experience with a mesmerising central performance from Caleb Landry Jones. Growing up the son of a famous filmmaker and being in the public eye has obviously influenced the subject matter. The elements of body horror will be up for comparison with his father’s films but some of the images are grotesquely unique.
Cronenberg excels at placing the audience in his dystopian future following the daily routine of Syd March (Landry Jones) as he sells the diseases of the rich and famous to members of the public, all for a sizeable sum of money. A black market that harvests the cells, a grubby gangster community, including a butcher who sells slabs of celebrity skin for human consumption, a beautiful blonde bombshell and some wise cracking colleagues make up the clinical and sickening world that Syd inhabits. There are many close-ups of needles and injections so if this sort of thing makes you feel queasy, be warned.
From the very first shot of the film Syd is sick, seen with a thermometer sticking out of his mouth standing beside a poster of Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon). She is the most sought after celebrity whose diseases are available exclusively at the Lucas Clinic where Syd is employed. Breaking the rules of the clinic Syd infects himself with Hannah’s newest disease only to find out it is lethal. He soon becomes the centre of unwanted attention and a human lab rat as those in power attempt to steal the virus and cash in. Hallucinations (a side effect of the illness) play out in a grossly enchanting fashion. As Syd literally stumbles (his deteriorating physical appearance conveyed brilliantly by Landry Jones) into a sinister world full of mysterious characters a captivating story plays out.
The idea that society is searching for fulfilment and some sort of spiritual nourishment from celebrity is fantastically imagined with squelchy human cell steaks and Syd's vampiric like bloodlust. Snippets of news play throughout the film guiding us through mundane celebrity routine and speculation with some dark humour. It pokes fun at the media as they enable the addiction but with Syd infected himself it points to the fact that no one is blameless in the situation. The public gets what the public wants being the message.
Cronenberg’s bleak vision is cohered perfectly with composer E.C. Woodley’s haunting soundtrack. A debut that shows promise not only in the relevance of the subject matter but in the creative and menacing aesthetic.