Antiviral Review

Burdened by a name loaded with more expectation than an executioner’s axe, Brandon Cronenberg’s debut feature was always going to be a curious one.

Although it seems a trivial assumption to pre-judge a director and their craft on something as tacky as their bloodline, Cronenberg isn’t just another Hollywood name; heir to King David, Brandon was already the Prince of Venereal Horror, without even picking up a camera.

But if Antiviral is anything to go by, he wears his crown with vigour.

Set in an abstract, dystopian future where society’s obsession with celebrity has reached extremist heights, this premise forms the architecture for some morbid social norms.

Antiviral centres around wraith-like, androgynous Syd March, played by Caleb Landry, technician at an institution known as The Lucas Clinic which specialises in the harvesting of celebrity diseases.

An apt topic considering his pa’s affinity for exploring infection.

In March’s cultural world, celebrity infatuation has become so chronic that it’s commonplace to infect yourself with the ailments of your idols.

In the same way that modern day plastic surgeons can offer you Angelina Jolie’s lips, Pamela Anderson’s rack or Reese Witherspoon’s chin, Cronenberg’s future goes several steps forward.

Obsessed with Rihanna? Here, have her latest flu or even last year’s skin rash.

Not only that, but you can indulge in the near-cannibalistic ritual of feasting on a celebrity ‘cell-steak’, a slab of stem-cell grown muscle tissue.

March, involved in the undercover smuggling of his clinic’s diseases on the black market, unwittingly injects himself with one such malady that proves fatal, throwing him into a situation Malcolm McDowell’s Dr Adenbroth character understatedly quips as “sinister”.

Though calling this sinister is like rechristening Chernobyl as a simple dusty sigh.

What ensues is Cronenberg’s disturbing, challenging, uncomfortable and graphic comment on society’s fascination with celebrity status.

Given the rate at which we strive to deify those touched by “Fame”, and the evolution of our culture’s science and technology, it’s not even unbelievable that we’ll take wrong turn and end up in Cronenberg’s dystopia.

It’s enough to make you burn that copy of Heat guiltily perched beside the bed, wipe Perez Hilton from your web favourites and (insert third example).

As a piece of art, Antiviral is visually impeccable.

The clinical, antiseptic world of Syd March is aesthetically portrayed through stark symmetry in the shots, a la the icy lens filter favoured by Danish thrillers.

As expected, the film is ripe with body horror and it’s this over-zealous need to glorify, or rather gore-ify, this theme that lets Antiviral down a little.

Of course, considering the topic and intended social criticism, the film would be hypocritical if it did not visually explore the body in such a way; but there’s a point at which this goes from fortifying the narrative, to being plain indulgent.

Blood is born on screen from a cough on a pillow, and accelerates into a full-blown sanguine waterfall.

You could let off a blood-filled Molotov cocktail and it wouldn’t come close to what Cronenberg ladles across the screen.

Yeah, we get it, you’re the Prince of Venereal Horror; but that doesn’t mean you have to be the fucking Prince of Darkness too.

The final scene, a strange mix of vampirism and lewd obscenity, is literal unadulterated blood-lust and completely undercuts March’s integrity, while being both lewdly macabre and downright bizarre.

Ironically, Antiviral’s greatest strength, exploring the nature of extremes and then falling into the trap itself, becomes its greatest weakness.

It’s definitely worth a watch, and not just to see Cronenberg take on his father’s legacy.

Brandon’s talent as an auteur is evident, as is his inherited ability to explore challenging subject matters, whilst Landry’s performance is breath-takingly disturbing and hypnotic.

The let-down comes from overindulging the genre. For when taken too far, Antiviral becomes a parody of itself, engulfed by its overwhelming level of body-horror, alienating the audience and eclipsing the narrative completely.

Audiences be warned, Antiviral ain’t for the faint hearted so you may want to hold off on eating anything before you’ve put yourself through this flick, or even a long while after.

I’m starving, but I’ll be damned if I let anything pass through my mouth after that gory rip-ride.

Seraphina Trent D’Arby

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November 2012
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