“WHAT IF YOU COULD FEEL LIKE THEY DO…?”
Category: Body Horror, Sci-Fi, Viral
Directed by: Brandon Cronenberg
Written by: Brandon Cronenberg
Starring: Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Malcolm McDowell
Music: E.C. Woodley
Cinematography: Karim Hussain
After months of anticipation I finally got a chance to watch this twisted Canadian venereal horror flick. Antiviral is the full length directorial debut of Brandon Cronenberg, taking elements from his two film shorts Broken Tulips and The Camera and Christopher Merk. Recognize the name? His father David Cronenberg is one of my favorite film directors of all time and a pretty big name in horror. He is most well known for his “body horror” movies; grotesque transformations and mutations of the body and the mind. The Fly, Videodrome, and The Brood come to mind. He’s also dabbled in mind bending, psychological thrillers with Naked Lunch, Dead Ringers, and Crash (Not the movie about racism and prejudice in LA) and now focuses on dramas with films like Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method. This is about the younger Cronenberg though, and although he’s said he had no intention of picking up where his father left off with the body horror subgenre, his father’s influence is definitely there. Cronenberg said he got the initial idea for the story when he was sick and thinking about how he had something in his body that came from someone else and the weird intimacy that lies there. How cool is that?
Set in a world where celebrity obsession has reached an extreme, the focus is on Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), an employee at The Lucas Clinic. This clinic will inject you with your favorite celebrity’s latest common cold or recently acquired venereal disease for a price, allowing you to feel that much closer to this iconic figure. March, seeing an opportunity to make money off of this, injects himself with these diseases to sneak them out of the clinic then sells them on the black market. One day he’s asked to obtain a virus from one of their most popular celebrities, Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon), before returning to the clinic he injects himself with it. To his dismay Hannah drops dead not too much later and March starts feelings the effects of this mystery virus. Amidst his race to find a cure he must also defend himself from various parties interested in capitalizing on his condition. One of the few people that he can turn to is Geist’s doctor played by genre favorite Malcolm McDowell.
While the setting is pretty extreme, e.g. delis selling steaks made from the muscle cells of celebs, I feel like it’s an intentional, over the top satire of our current celebrity obsessed culture. From tabloid magazines to celebrity sex tapes to shitty (clearly scripted) reality shows, we’re already pretty invasive when it comes to the personal lives of these “icons”.
I love the way this is shot, everything is stark white and has a sterile hospital vibe which is a great contrast to our sickly looking, red haired, freckled protagonist. Also whenever blood is seen on screen (which is fairly often) it really sticks out. This is thanks to director of photography Karim Hussain whose last film, Hobo With a Shotgun, had almost the complete opposite look. Obnoxious bright color scheme and a shitty urban backdrop. I think the overall look and feel of this movie might be it’s strongest attribute.
There’s been a lot of criticism about Syd March’s portrayal, that he’s emotionless and that it’s hard to connect with him. I think his distant view on everything around him works perfectly for this film, plus he’s been injecting himself with all sorts of viruses and is sick throughout the whole film, of course he’s spaced out. He acts indifferent to the society he lives in, like he wants nothing to do with the celebrity obsession that has consumed his world, but there is a side to him that makes a connection to the hosts’ of the illnesses he harvests. I think Jones is fantastic in this film, he’s so intense. Pretty much all of the screen time is focused on Jones, but the supporting cast is great, not a bad egg in the bunch. For any Blue Mountain State fans, James Cade who plays the habitual drug using Harmon Tedesco, has a role in this flick and I was surprised that he can play someone other than a hard partying football player convincingly.
There’s not much I don’t like about this film. My only gripe is that the pacing could’ve been better and there’s a feeling that something’s missing, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s beautifully shot, plenty of great acting, the whole concept is totally unique,and there’s some very disturbing and trippy imagery. This isn’t for your everyday movie goer, you need a love for the truly weird to dig this. Any Cronenberg fan is sure to appreciate this flick.