The cult of the celebrity is already at manic heights in our society. A new religion for the age of media saturation, in which tabloid bibles and paparazzi prophets spread the gospel of what each of these neo-idols does, says, and thinks, so that we can all vicariously experience their existence, however minutely or mundane, and hopefully even distract from our own personal situations, shortcomings, frustrations. The son of iconic Canadian filmmaker, David Cronenberg, Brandon Cronenberg displays with his first ever feature, “Antiviral”, that he is truly his father’s son. The pitch black satirical lense with which his father has looked at the world persists into his own work, it seems, as “Antiviral” takes the idea of modern celebrity mania and takes it into the near future, cranking the insanity up to 11.
Cronenberg presents a future in which the want to share in the life experience of a celebrity has reached new heights of perversion. Corporations built on collecting and marketing celebrity diseases, so that the true fan can pay to be infected, thus sharing in the life experience of their idol, their own cells mingling with the star’s. Fevers, run of the mill flu, and even herpes; all are viable products. The film follows Syd March, an employee at the leading corporation in the viral trade and, as we soon find out, a smuggler of diseases, who uses his own body as the means of transportation. It’s a dangerous and agonizing practice as it is, and when Syd finds out the celebrity whom he has recently infected himself with has died of her illness, his own life is at stake.
The film is also heavily stylized, both visually and in terms of its performances. The visuals have this ultra bright, ethereal glow to them for much of the film, with certain darker scenes providing welcome contrast. Whiteness pervades almost every scene in the film, until much of the rooms and locations seem to blend together, becoming a blur. I can’t help but feel like this was meant to express the feelings that the customers of these viruses felt, with their own existences being so mundane and lackluster that the existence of someone who they idolized created some kind of respite from the white nothingness. The performances reminded me of Nicholas Wending Refn and the heightened reality he tends to create through his actors as they all seem to be in a kind of dream state. The pauses last longer, words spoken slower and more deliberately making the viewer feel like they are looking into a satirist nightmare.
As stated earlier, Brandon Cronenberg carries the banner of body horror that his father first made popular. In fact, at times it’s strange how genuinely “Cronenbergian” the movie is. “Antiviral” finds a way to be horrific while not at all bowing to the tropes of standard horror films, instead looking at this strange world through an intensely objective lense and retaining a scathing intelligence. It is also impressive how fleshed out this world seems, however unreal. You find yourself enveloped in the setting that these characters inhabit. By the end of the film, you are thinking hard on the questions it asks and the world it sets in front of you. At first glance, it all seems extreme and ridiculous, but when you really look around at the mania surrounding the Kardashians and other such celebrities, the potency of Antiviral’s narrative comes to light.
For a first ever feature film from a director out of film school, “Antiviral” is damn inspirational. It looks good and it really IS good! It’s hard enough to even finish a film, let alone ensure that it comes off as quality. But aside from that, Brandon Cronenberg has created a vision of satire and grotesquery that I don’t think received nearly enough attention and that was forgotten much too quickly. If you like the films of his father (think “Videodrome” and “eXistenz”), and you enjoy a movie that will make you think as much as cringe, then this is the one for you!!!!