Director: Brandon Cronenberg
MPAA Rating: NR
Film Pulse Score: 7/10
In a world where celebrity madness has overtaken society, certain businesses have learned to profit from the situation. For those who crave an otherwise unobtainable closeness with a celebrity with whom they hold a special kind of fascination, they have many options available to them on the cellular level. Antiviral is the story of a world in which the famous hold contracts with companies who sell their viruses to the public for profit. A whole world of twisted nature awaits you in this film, and yet, the allegory in which you are placed is so familiar, so in tune with aspects of everyday life, that you may find its not the differences that make your skin crawl. Be forewarned, this film is truly disgusting, and I would also say that this is my greatest compliment to bestow. Cronenberg should feel proud.
Set against a stark background of bright walls and looping video portraits of celebrity faces, salesmen penetrate you with your deepest desires. Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it. Choosing to become infested with the latest illness is the fad. That illness is one of many viruses that were last in celebrity bodies. People line up to pay money to get a stars herpes via syringe, and you watch them pang with a sick version of ecstasy as they revel in being so close to one the desire to know, yet are so distant. An off-shoot business collects skin cels and grows steaks that are supposed to be the flesh of the famous, and you can order each on by name. This is day to day norm in the world of Antiviral.
As an interesting metaphor plays out over the course of the film, which critiques culture consumption with a striking mise-en-scene, we also witness the visceral consequences of this society’s actions. There is, indeed, an A-list, and they are the demigods of the “civilized” world. Unfortunately, even for a half god, it is difficult to benefit consistently from the sale of your biology, and this film paints a clear portrait of opportunism at its bleakest. Strong plot devices and trance like visual loops help to solidify a plot that does feel as though it is a bastard child of the 90’s. After all, vampires, vamps, cannibalism and selling you pain are all issues we dealt with before we partied like it was 1999, right? In this film by Brandon Cronenberg, we are reminded of some of his father’s earlier work, a voice we haven’t heard from in this way in ages.
In order to stay on top of the game, a strikingly frail sales man and viral junkie, Syd March, begins to work as a mule for a risky business connection. Syd’s character (played by Caleb Landry Jones) is not only doing this for the extra cash, but also because his own desire to be one with the film’s A-list celeb, Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon) has found an expression by consuming her illnesses, just like his clients. There is the very obvious subtext of a vampire film at play here, but it’s enjoyment factor goes through the roof because of its futuristic, sci-fi plot twists. When Syd becomes infected with a life threatening version of a Hannah Geist illness, let’s just say that things become a little…complicated.