ANTIVIRAL (2012) – The Dungeon Review!
The second film in the Vancouver International Film Festival queue was Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral. The director was in attendance for the showing of Antiviral and answered some questions from the audience. One person asked (and this is VERY loosely quoted) “Considering the film’s theme would you care to comment on living in your father’s shadow?” Brandon Cronenberg’s answer to that question was he tried not to think about it. Brandon Cronenberg is the son of David Cronenberg; one of horror’s greatest innovators whose brilliant contributions created an entirely new sub-genre of “body horror”. Frankly, I welcome new horror films with a body horror theme particularly when they lean towards the psychological variety. Sure, I won’t lie; the name Cronenberg did add to its appeal but based on the trailer I would have seen this film regardless of the director. Come on! A sick celebrity-obsessed culture paying top dollar to contract their favourite celebrity’s herpes?! That is some wonderfully messed up shit right there!
Antiviral opens with a sickly looking Syd March standing on a rooftop. March stands silently in front of a huge billboard of super-celebrity Hannah Geist while he takes his temperature. We are than introduced to Lucas Clinic president Dorian being interviewed about the morality behind what the company is doing. In this horribly twisted culture there is no room for morality; or sanity for that matter! The Lucas Clinic sells celebrity infections straight from the source and business is booming. Enter Lucas Clinic salesman Syd March. How did this March character get a job in sales anyway? March is sickly from the moment we meet him and the sickness gets progressively worse. The kid really should stop sampling the merchandise. The problem being there is a lucrative black market willing to buy samples and shooting himself is the easiest way to get them out of the clinic. He even has his own home version of the clinic machinery that alters the drug to prevent it from being contagious. Apparently contagious diseases are where The Lucas Clinic draws the line. You certainly would not want to sell contagious diseases to people…that would be wrong! March becomes a target for some dubious folks after injecting himself with some particularly valuable blood. March’s extracurricular activities are literally killing him! Have you ever wanted to be so close to a celebrity that you would be willing to pay top dollar for their herpes? Well, there is something seriously freaking wrong with you than!
Clearly Antiviral is commentary on society’s unhealthy obsession with celebrity. Giant pictures of celebrities adorn the walls of The Lucas Clinic. People wait reading various celebrity rags in The Lucas Clinic’s cold, white sterile waiting room. Clients are escorted down white corridors into white offices where sales men in black suits not only sell them a disease they personally inject it. Do I want to live in this world? Yike! The Lucas Clinic is not the only ones selling a “bit of celebrity” to the public. A local butcher is “growing” his own meat using celebrity cells! The “meat” which I think they actually say is muscle in its “growing” stage is absolutely vial and the slabs that are sold to the public are pretty nasty and gluttonous looking. Ewww! There are definitely some grotesque images on display in Antiviral and if you have a fear of needles you may want to avoid it. Generally speaking though Antiviral is not about the gore; it is more of a psychological trip than anything.
During the Q & A with Cronenberg he commented that Antiviral was made in 21 days! I didn’t need another reason to be impressed by this film, but that astounds me. Antiviral is a slow boil as we watch Syd March’s brutal stroll towards death. Antiviral has a nicely executed feeling of unease that crawls under the skin. A good deal of the film has little or no dialog, which added a lot to the anxiety. The visuals are excellent and the effects that are included are perfect. Antiviral’s premise was very appealing to me and I really loved the stark and ugly ending. Antiviral entertained the hell out me, but it was not without some issues. Antiviral keeps a keen sense of unease throughout but it is not consistently intense. It does have some deliciously dastardly surprises for the viewer but it never quite reaches that jaw-dropping “what the fuck” moment.
Most of the film’s focus is on Syd March played by Caleb Landry Jones. I have to admit it took me a while to get warmed up to the character. Not “Warmed up” in the sense that I liked the character, but rather that I could accept him in this scenario. Syd March is not a particularly empathetic character despite the serious messed up stuff he goes through. I didn’t get the impression I was intended to necessarily like him though. He is hardly a victim in the story, and to a large extent he is the source of his own undoing. He doesn’t speak much in the film, and even when he does it is generally as few words as possible. He deteriorates slowly throughout the film and we eventually see him forced to walk with a cane and vomiting blood. He looks sickly, pasty and sweaty and has a few psychotic episodes and trippy hallucinations for good measure. By the end of the film I was on board with the Caleb Landry Jones’ choice for lead. Hannah Geist is a huge presence in Antiviral. She is The Lucas Clinic’s hottest commodity. Giant pictures of her face are everywhere! While she is a huge presence she actually has very little screen time outside of her face constantly being on display. What little is shown of her proves if nothing else, that her life is not all glamour and perfection or as March suggests to a client “more than perfect”. The more minor roles are mostly a bit forgettable but I did enjoy Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Abendroth and Nicholas Campbell as Dorian.
I thoroughly dug my theatre going experience of Antiviral. Seeing this on a giant screen was kind of a trip. Antiviral’s cold, white, fucked up world enveloped me completely. I really don’t see enough horror films in the theatre! It was also a cool bonus to get a Q & A with Brandon Cronenberg. I will definitely rent this and watch it again when it comes out on DVD. Although Antiviral doesn’t quite reach that orgasmic horror moment, it certainly does titillate. Highly recommended.
Dungeon Rating: 4/5
Directed By: Brandon Cronenberg
Starring: Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Malcolm McDowell, Douglas Smith, Joe Pingue, Nicholas Campbell