Cannes 2012 Review: Brandon Cronenberg's Odd First Film 'Antiviral'
by Alex Billington
May 22, 2012
As initially stated in my tweet immediately after seeing this: "weirdest, sickest shit I've seen yet." Indeed. Antiviral is the directorial debut of one Brandon Cronenberg, son of the legendarily twisted filmmaker David Cronenberg, and it involves celebrity obsession taken to the extremes. Imagine a culture, a world like our own, where the popular masses are so into celebrities, that they pay money to be injected with the same disease a celebrity recently had to feel a sort of "biological communion." Where can they go with that idea? Only the Cronenbergs can make it as weird and as sick as this is, but still utterly fascinating in its own right.
Antiviral focuses on a young technician named Syd March (played by Caleb Landry Jones) at one of the major clinics that exclusively licenses, and obtains, diseases from celebrities, puts a "copy protection" on them, and sells them to any paying individual. If you can't tell, this is destined to become a cult classic based on premise alone. The world that young Cronenberg creates, on a considerably low budget, is as unique as most weird sci-fi worlds. There's even a celebrity "meat market" where they grow skin cells into pieces of meat to sell to those who want to eat it. Disgusting, yea, but such a brilliant extension of how far celebrity obsession could go. And that's exactly what is so tantalizing about this and how it's presented.
While I can't necessarily say I thought the narrative was particularly engaging, especially because it devolves into a self-centered, minimalistic story about Syd taking his own injections too far, I was at least intrigued by the concept. I'm personally not a fan of the celebrity obsession that pervades this world and was amused to see someone bold enough to take the concept to the extreme edges of where I could honestly see it going. I'm sure some crazed fan out there has said at least once that they'd die to get their hands on the saliva of Robert Pattinson, and it's that passing joke that Cronenberg takes and runs with, because maybe it isn't really a joke. But unfortunately he drifts a bit too far of course with his main character and his motivations.
Some of the bigger issues with Antiviral stem from basic first-time filmmaker oversights. While he sets up a good concept, introduces a few interesting characters, there's not much of this world besides the two key locations already mentioned: the clinic, and meat market. Syd stands in front of a banner smoking, a shot which is repeated multiple times, but there needed to be more of a fully-fleshed out "world" that it is exists in. It was as simple as if he shot this in Toronto and never added any extra bits to the background to make it feel more vivid. It's a solid, weird, disgusting, freaky, intriguing thriller of sorts, that will definitely earn a cult following in the end. Especially because Brandon certainly has that Cronenberg DNA in him already.
Alex's Cannes Rating: 7 out of 10