Director/Writer: Brandon Cronenberg
Cast: Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Malcom McDowell, Joe Pingue, Nicholas Campbell, Salvatore Antonio
Plot: The obsession with celebrity culture has become so garish that there exist clinics where the public can buy viruses taken from the blood and cells of living celebrities. The opportunity to consume any part of celebrity culture (figuratively and literally) is a profitable business and so employees such as Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) take the chance to make as money as possible from it. March works at one of the clinics and is secretively injecting the viruses into his bloodstream, extracting it outside of work and selling it through the black market. His plan works until he injects a fatal virus that has killed mega-sensation Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon). March has to try and cure himself as well as avoiding the pirates and fans eager to have the infamous killer-virus.
Under no circumstance will Brandon Cronenberg’s new film not get referenced to the work of his father, the legendary David Cronenberg. The appearance of Antiviral is consciously harking back to the classics such as The Fly, Videodrome and Dead Ringers and in many regards there should be no issue there. Much like The Fly and Videodrome, centring the plot on some bizarre and extravagant idea, Antiviral attempts to introduce another strange narrative crux though it only becomes clear an hour and a half into the film. The film will certainly leave you pondering over its design and vision, much like it does for the older Cronenberg oeuvre, yet it demands too much for it to be well-liked.
The lead actor, a sullen, chalky, Caleb Landry Jones, fits into the piece perfectly – providing an eerie allure and monstrous animalism that the role demands. Arguably without Jones the film would fall flat as it not so much the world around the main character that interests us but the way he experiences it. The remaining cast have little to no lines and only the work-colleagues that stand in line with March, and his black-market dealer, provide any worthy contribution to the atmosphere of the film. The lack of lucid motivation on behalf of every character (as to why they feel enamoured by the notion of passing on illness to feel connected to celebrities) denies the film any poignancy and even with Jones dynamically carrying the film by himself, you can never truly understand the reasoning behind it all.
Cronenberg has crafted an intricate and complex narrative for his directorial debut and whilst it may not work wonders for him commercially, it highlights his professionalism. He has clearly found a style he enjoys to work with and even without it seeming unique, it is engaging on some level. As an audience we are aware of the formulaic equilibrium and disequilibrium that helps move the plot along however Cronenberg finds ways to manipulate it cunningly (though the last 20 minutes lag due to the director’s decision over an unconventional ending that struggles to make the film feel finalised). The complete sterility of the style reflects aspects of its unappealing nature; it may become a cult classic in some film-fanatic spheres but it has little to no humanity that would grant it any magnetism.
By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveForFilms