The apple definitely doesn’t fall far from the tree. Director David Cronenberg pretty much invented the ‘venereal horror genre’. Many of his earlier films including Rabid, The Brood and eXistenZ explored people’s fears of bodily transformation and infection.
In the past few years we have seen the Cronenberg extended family bring their visions to the big screen. First was Rhinoceros Eyes by director Aaron Woodley (son of Denise Cronenberg and nephew to David) and most recently, Antiviral written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg (son of David and nephew of Denise Cronenberg).
Anitviral’s plot sounds like a gestating idea ripped from the warped brain of his father. In the not too distant future, a clinic gives ordinary citizens an opportunity to connect with their favorite celebrities by being injected by a disease or virus that comes directly from the source. How would you like Mel Gibson’s herpes? Maybe Miley Cyrus’ crabs? Christina Applegate’s cancer, anyone?
Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works the clinic. He injects people with disease for a living. Syd also smuggles illegal supplies to underground piracy groups. The market for rabid fans is lucrative. Especially for anything to do with celebrity Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon), a beautiful blonde that is the lure of many a subscriber to the clinic. Her popularity is so grand that Syd injects himself with her recent infection. But when Hannah dies of her illness, Syd must uncover the source of death before he too succumbs to the virus.
The subject matter is in the Cronenberg blood. David Cronenberg had two movies about scientists that modify the human body in Rabid and Shivers. Science and human modification were also in parts of his later films of Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly and The Brood. Brandon’s Antiviral fits nicely amongst these entries – even if it pales in the gut punch that thrilled his father’s fans for years.
Jones is creepy as our lead character Syd. He is not your typical chiseled male lead and his awkwardness helps with the overall tone of the film. The effects are minimal as Brandon tries to breed the ghastly idea in our heads rather than trot out horrific deformities that may result from clinical injection.
Still, the movie fails to deliver the punch that was likely intended. There are the obvious undertones of our love for celebrities and our fascination of self- manipulation to emulate the paparazzi endeared. This social commentary is overt, but the execution lacks just that extra umph to make us feel awkward instead of just morbidly curious.
There is a small twist that makes things interesting and the always pleasing Malcolm McDowell appears in a few scenes to add some credibility, but ultimately, the film cannot maintain the weight on the legs of its heavy subject matter.
This makes Antiviral a bit of a letdown. Think of it like David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ. Just without the star power or the extra icky-ness.