Cinema Review: Antiviral

DIR: Brandon Cronenberg WRI: Brandon Cronenberg PRO: Niv Fichman DOP:
Karim Hussain ED: Matthew Hannam DES: Arvinder Grewal Cast: Caleb
Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Joe Pingue, Malcolm McDowell

At the best of times, following in the footsteps of your famous
director father can be a tricky proposition. Jake Scott, son of Ridley
and nephew of the late Tony Scott, had a gap of 11 years between his
two big-screen directorial efforts (Plunkett & Macleane and Welcome to
the Rileys), Jennifer ‘daughter of David’ Lynch likewise found it hard
to climb back from the wildly-misjudged Boxing Helena, while Goro
Miyazaki famously had disagreements with his acclaimed father Hayao as
he tried to bring Tales from Earthsea into production.

However, there are also plenty of examples of filmmakers escaping from
the shadows of their much-loved parents, such as in the works of Sofia
Coppola, Nick Cassavetes and Rob Reiner, with Coppola and Reiner in
particular having to make it on their own in the presence of their
still active parents Francis Ford and Carl.

Only time will tell what category David Cronenberg’s son Brandon falls
into, but on the basis of his debut feature, Antiviral, there is
certainly some potential for the future. Starring the flame-haired
Caleb Landry Jones (a notable support player in The Last Exorcism,
Contraband and X-Men: First Class as Banshee), Antiviral follows Syd
March, an employee of a company that harvests diseases from
celebrities and then injects them into paying clients.

He is one of the company’s most gifted workers, and conducts his tasks
in painstaking detail to ensure that the diseases do not become
contagious. However, after sampling the disease that kills Hannah
Geist, one of the corporations most valued suppliers, he must unravel
the secrets surrounding this disease before it takes his life as well.

As expected, there are plenty of twists and turns throughout, and for
a maiden effort, Antiviral is extremely well made, with a lot of
attention paid to the production design, which is brilliantly realised
by Arvinder Grewal, who has worked with Cronenberg Senior on Crash,
eXistenZ, Spider and Cosmopolis in the past.

Indeed, in comparison to his father’s earliest works, it is has a much
slicker polish to it, although Brandon has far less obstacles in
bringing his vision to the screen.

With his father holding the title of ‘King Of Venereal Horror’, it is
clear that Brandon is eager to maintain this legacy, and through the
performance of Jones and his on-screen physical deterioration, we get
a genuine sense of how this specific disease can manifest itself
inside your internal organs. The use of real-life close-up shots of
needles entering the skin helps to add to the unease that audiences
will feel, and there is certainly an unsettling edge at many moments
in the film.

It also makes some very wry observations about the obsession with
celebrity culture, and how ordinary people have a desire to be just
like those they idolise, and in this case quite literally occupy their
skins. While this concept is an offbeat one, it does highlight the
absurdity of placing some members of the entertainment industry on
such a high pedestal, and the pitfalls that may come with entering
into a Faustian Pact of this nature.

On the downside, however, Antiviral does lack the visceral pleasures
that are readily associated with the best examples of the ‘body
horror’ genre, and despite developing plenty of unease, it never quite
translates into fear and trepidation. In fact, the film threatens to
lose its grip half-way through the drama, before being reinvigorated
once more by the presence of Malcolm McDowell as a mysterious doctor.

Up to that point, it was becoming difficult to see what direction the
film was heading in, but the introduction of the veteran star of A
Clockwork Orange helped to offer a new perspective on the narrative.

With six minute trimmed off the original version shown at the 2012
Cannes Film Festival, the film we see certainly feels that bit
tighter, and there are certainly enough interesting ideas to keep
audiences intrigued for the 110 minutes running time.

While there are faults with the finished package, this is entirely
acceptable given that Brandon Cronenberg is still learning his trade
in a very competitive field. What he does with his sophomore outing
will have a big impact on his career as a filmmaker, but on the
evidence of Antiviral, he stands a decent chance of being remembered
for his output rather than for his lineage.

 

Daire Walsh

103 mins

Antiviral is released on 8th February 2013

Antiviral – Official Website

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