In which debuting writer-director Brandon Cronenberg boldly mines the
biological horror trope invented by his father David. The film is
stylish and audacious to a fault, but also hopelessly underbaked and
It may not be an especially great movie, but ANTIVIRAL
did win at least two prestigious awards during its 2012 festival run.
Its brief theatrical bow took place in Spring of 2013, during which
ANTIVIRAL had the misfortune to be released alongside the similarly
themed ERRORS OF THE HUMAN BODY and
UPSTREAM COLOR, the latter of which was
a vastly superior effort in every respect.
At the Lucas Clinic people pay to be injected with
diseases taken from the bodies of celebrities. The viruses are
manipulated by the clinic’s technicians so they’re non-infectious, and
hence “copy protected.”
Syd is a young Lucas Clinic employee who to make money
on the side infects himself with many of his company’s diseases, which
he then sells to a pirate outfit. Syd’s latest self infection is a
disease taken from the actress Hannah Geist, an unknown pathogen she
contracted in China which has a number of painful side effects. Before
long Hannah apparently dies, which understandably freaks out Syd.
He learns that Hannah is actually still alive, with her
death a cover story fabricated to throw off the media. Syd also
discovers that the virus afflicting Hannah might have emerged from the
Lucas Clinic. As the disease desiccates Syd’s mind and body he
experiences what appear to be elaborate hallucinations involving Hannah
Geist, and ends up interred in a rival clinic where the mystery virus
afflicting Hannah and Syd truly originates.
With its unnervingly staid and colorless interiors,
tightly controlled filmmaking and dialogue like “Her eyes seem to reach
beneath your skin and touch your organs,” this film is creepy and
clinical to a degree that few filmmakers--including Brandon Cronenberg’s
father--have ever approached. Cronenberg also evinces a real talent for
skin crawling grotesquerie achieved through extremely subtle and unshowy
means (such as close-ups of hypodermic needles piercing skin).
Cronenberg is aided immeasurably by the expertly crafted sterile imagery
of cinematographer Karim Hussain (of SUBCONSCIOUS CRUELTY and
HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN)
and Caleb Landry Jones’ committed lead performance.
But the film has problems, starting with its absurdly
quaint and old-fashioned take on celebrity, which is represented largely
by smiling faces on billboards and poorly shot video footage (reality TV
and sex tapes seem completely foreign to this film’s reality). For that
matter, there’s no sense of any sort of culture outside the hermetic
lives of the protagonists, leaving us questioning the sort of world in
which this film’s interesting but terminally loony premise could ever
possibly take place--it certainly isn’t this one!
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Producer: Niv Fichman
Screenplay: Brandon Cronenberg
Cinematography: Karim Hussain
Editing: Matthew Hannam
Cast: Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Douglas Smith, Joe Pingue,
Nicholas Campbell, Sheila McCarthy, Wendy Crewson, Malcolm McDowell