The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Armed with a body horror fixation that he inherited from his father and following in his filmmaking footsteps, Brandon Cronenberg sets out to make a similar mark on the film industry with his self-written feature-length debut Antiviral.
Central to the young Canadian’s science fiction tale is a compelling dissection of the ever-growing celebrity culture within contemporary western societies. Set within an artificial reality, Antiviral explores a celebrity-obsessed nation where people pay to become infected with the viruses and diseases that their idols are suffering from. But Cronenberg’s world is littered with constant media streams of celebrity news, Entertainment Tonight style interviews and manipulated magazine cover photos; the reality is that the fictional world that Cronenberg has created isn’t far from our own, which makes this film all the more distressing.
Despite the visceral images weaved into the narrative, Antiviral is a beautiful looking film. With the aid of cinematographer Karim Hussain, Cronenberg constructs a visual style of clinical whites, stark contrasting blacks and vivid reds. The result is an ultra-real aesthetic that is both unsettling and futuristic. This visual clue points towards the central idea that the culture depicted within his film is one that the he believes we are heading towards if celebrity culture continues its rapid growth.
Caleb Landry Jones is terrific in the central role as Syd March, an employee of a pharmaceutical company who harvests diseases from celebrities and injects them into paying clients. Even when his character begins his downward spiral, the young actor maintains a controlled performance which makes his character’s physical and emotional transformation as painful to watch as the frequent graphic images which are anchored to the narrative.
Unfortunately narrative is where the problem lies. The film begins as a curiously fascinating exploration of the world Cronenberg has created, but soon descends in to a tedious business rivalry that never matches the impact or tone of earlier scenes. Antiviral has a fantastic central concept, but it never recovers from the feeling of being what would’ve been a great short film stretched to fit a feature-length runtime. Despite this significant flaw, Antiviral remains an impressive debut from Brandon Cronenberg and the emerging filmmaker is certainly worth keeping an eye on.
Seen as part of the 48th Chicago International Film Festival