Directed by Brandon Cronenberg. Starring Caleb Landry Jones ("Syd March"), Sarah Gadon ("Hannah Geist"), Malcolm McDowell ("Dr. Abendroth"), and Douglas Smith ("Edward Porris"). Not Rated.
Source: Region 1 DVD (IFC, MPI)
Running time: 01:47:47
David Cronenberg. When it comes to films, whether it be directing or acting, following in the footsteps of your parent is one thing, but adapting the same cinematic voice or tackling the same genre as your parent is another. ANTIVIRAL is Brandon's attempt at carrying the torch that his father lit many years ago when he became synonymous with the sub-genre known as Body Horror. The elder Cronenberg eventually moved away from the horror genre in favor of more dramatic or crime-based films, but along comes Brandon years later to take a stab at it. Was it the right move? Let's find out.
I'm not sure if ANTIVIRAL takes place in the future or some bizarro alternate world that parallels ours. Whatever the case, it's Sci-Fi as fuck and it definitely exists in its own reality. Lead character Syd (played by one of the creepiest actors working today, Caleb Landry Jones) works for a clinic that specializes in a procedure that's essentially an alternative to (or an evolution of) plastic surgery for the average person.
There are a lot of people out there who live vicariously through celebrities because they perceive their ordinary lives as being miserable. And so those people contemplate what they can do to be just like those very famous people whose lives are on full display for the world to see. "These people are getting attention, so they must be doing something right. They're accepted. I want to be accepted." Whether it be dabbling in fashion trends, getting breast augmentations, changing the way you speak, or buying a new car, the average person will go out of their way to be just like the person who's adored by millions. Well this movie takes that sort of idol-worship to the extreme, which is where Syd and his clinic come into play.
The gist of it is that there are a handful of celebrities who have viruses modeled and named after them. And so regular people are injected with these viruses and diseases as a way of being part of a trend. The thing is, these viruses are only specific to the carrier and aren't contagious, which, I guess, creates some sort of exclusivity. In particular, a celebrity named Hannah Geist seems to be a sought-after commodity. There are rumors of Hannah having some sort of genital deformity that doesn't quite pay off at any point, but it's one of the many bizarre elements of the story. Aside from that, there's not much to say about the plot. There's more of an emphasis on the film's commentary and visuals more than anything. The lead character suffers from some sort of debilitating ailment that may or may not stem from the fact that he becomes infected with the Hannah Geist virus, and so a lot of the film focuses on his physical deterioration rather than exploring the mythology that's created. Regardless, it's still interesting. In a way, I appreciate the vague portrayal of the mythology. It creates a mystique to the bizarre medical backdrop that leaves a lot to the viewer's imagination.
Of all the movies covered so far during the Summer of Blood, this is the one that I was the most unsure about when it was all said and done. I wanted to like it more than I did, but a part of me also felt like a lot of it just went over my head. Or maybe there just wasn't much there in the first place? One thing I can say for sure, though, is that ANTIVIRAL is full of interesting visuals. The apple certainly doesn't fall from the tree in that respect, especially when you consider how the film showcases Body Horror. As far as the imagery, if there's a movie from the elder Cronenberg that came to mind when watching this, it's VIDEODROME, but as a whole it really feels like the deformed, creepy sibling of COSMOPOLIS (which I'm a huge fan of btw).
Yeah I don't have much to say about this one. As I said, something about it can't allow me to completely embrace it as much as I'd like to. To answer my question earlier of whether or not going the Body Horror route was the right move for Brandon (in his feature-length directorial debut no less), I'm not sure, but I'm leaning towards "no". It's cool that he's carrying the torch, which, as the heir apparent to the throne, is his right to do so, but his father was such a master at what he did. He'll inherently be in his father's shadow unless he can really pull an Ace out of his sleeve in the future should he decide to stick to horror. The thing is, if I were to watch this objectively and judge it based on its own merits, I'd probably be just as underwhelmed. So yeah, I guess you could say ANTIVIRAL didn't work for me and I don't know if it ever will, but I'm still excited to see what Son of Cronenberg does in the future.