After becoming infected with the virus that killed superstar Hannah Geist, Syd March must unravel the mystery surrounding her death to save his own life .
Antiviral paints a world where people’s obsession with celebrity has reached entirely new levels. Fans can now share in their favourite celebrity’s life by sharing their diseases… When a celebrity falls ill, clinics they have deals with come to harvest some of their blood and germs, which they then treat to make it non-contagious so it can not be sold on by the recipient, and then sell it to fans. Want to feel close to Miley Cirus? Buy a shot of her herpes and it’ll feel like she gave it to you personally… Once you start harvesting people’s cells, why stop at growing diseases? Why not grow fat cells? You can now buy Celebrity Cell Steaks. Feel like a piece of J-Lo’s behind on the barbie tonight? The premise sounds completely ridiculous of course, but the movie is most certainly not a comedy.
Syd (Caleb Landry Jones) is a salesman, pushing these celebrity diseases on their fans. But he sidelines by stealing samples and reverting its contagiousness so he can sell the diseases on the black market. This goes awry when a disease he personally harvested from a celebrity turns out to be lethal…
Antiviral is the first full feature debut of Brandon Cronenberg – indeed: son of David. Brandon has certainly been heavily influenced by his father’s style, which is not a bad thing. Various scenes reminded me of the visceral visuals of his father’s 1999 movie eXistenZ, on which it seems son Brandon was a special effects technician. But the overall atmosphere is mostly very clean, sterile and white, so as to amplify the contrast with the pale skin and dark eyes of Syd, the close-ups of blood and needles.
Cinematographically this works pretty well, but the plot becomes a bit too subserviant to the visuals and loses momentum in the middle. And Caleb Landry Jones’ acting is fine and his pasty pale look works well in this atmosphere, but you don’t really warm to him, nor hate him. So the viewer remains too much of a passive observer which is a shame. Fairly late in the game, Malcolm McDowell is introduced into the plot but he also doesn’t quite manage to get things going again; he brings a bit more personality and humanity, something which is lacking in all other characters, but his role is not significant enough to lift the movie to a higher level. Luckily the endig brings a fitting close to the movie’s arc and it does feel like a complete story.
I can’t say it is a good movie, but there are certainly various and sufficiently intriguing elements. I’ll keep an eye out for Brandon Cronenberg’s next film; hopefully that retains the strong visuals and visceral concepts, but adds a better pace and more humanity and viewer interest.