Take a look at the modern world and it’s difficult to deny we’re in a certain amount of trouble. Pick up any magazine, flick through any social networking sites, and you’ll see we have celebrity on the brain. Brandon Cronenberg (son of cult director, David Cronenberg) has chosen this sordid affair as a launching point for his impressive debut: Antiviral.
Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works at the Lucas Clinic, a multi-million dollar institute that specialises in a very particular product: viruses that have been extracted from celebrities. In a world where celebrity obsession has reached dizzying levels, these diseases are the most intimate way for fans to connect to their idols. Syd infects himself with the diseases in order to smuggle them out the clinic and sell them on the black market, but after infecting himself with a disease that goes on to kill superstar Hannah Geist, he is forced to race against time in a desperate attempt to unravel the mystery of what is happening to his body.
I can’t actually remember the last time a debut feature was so poignant, so keyed into what’s going on in the modern world. Brandon has obviously inherited his father’s keen eye for social commentary along with a vivid sense of style. Dependency on gossip, desire for more than just autographs, and the tide of nonsense crap that we consume daily in our desire to know more and more about glorified wannabes, it’s all here. Cronenberg flaunts his wit when he shows just how all this madness will end up, his script proves inventive time and time again; the faces given to viruses in order to determine their character, edibles made from celeb stem cells, cyber strippers, you get the drift. It’s a bleak and unsettling affair.
The film looks dead sharp too; the cinematography, particularly the miserable palate, enforces a truly bleak dream-like world where the only real colour amidst the droll is blood-red. Bare minimum white-washed sets dominated by unnervingly large celeb posters are to be found everywhere in Cronenberg’s world. There’s some genius moments of body horror here reminiscent of early Cronenberg Sr; mechanical-human crossovers are unnerving viewing but if any real achievement is made, its making blood genuinely horrific. The parasites unseen are where our fears should really be lying, and after watching Syd slowly succumb, you’ll probably start noticing how few people bother to cover their mouths when they cough.
Landry Jones deserves praise for a fantastic performance, one which becomes more and more desperate as the film progresses and hence, more riveting to watch. Malcolm McDowell sneaks in as a Doctor interested in Syd’s regression, at one point admitting to him ‘I’m afraid you’ve become involved with something sinister’, surely scoring the best horror one-liner thus far this year. It’s a wonder it’s not on the poster.
By the end of this ride you may be left wondering if the plot packs enough wallop, but in the face of the concept, style, and discourse, narrative can be excused ever-so-slightly. This is not only an impressive debut, but an important one, especially depressing when you stop to think, actually…this isn’t that far-fetched.