Antiviral (2012, 1 hr 48 mins)
It’s pretty clear that with all the reality shows that make the obscure rich even richer and become a household name; and with all the gossip rags that give us the every move of every celebrity, society at large is overly obsessed with the rich and famous. Brandon Cronenberg (the son of twisted director great David Cronenberg) brings us a surreal tale of obsession and deceit. Antiviral is to me, a commentary on the parasitic, symbiotic relationship between celebrity their fans.
Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), a sickly pale ginger of a man, is a consultant at the Lucas Celebrity Clinic. He helps people choose viruses harvested from their favourite celebrities to infect themselves with, the most popular of them being the Clinic’s exclusive contract holder, actress Hannah Geist. It is a brisk business, from the common cold to cancer, topping it off with “cell steaks”; meats made from cells of the rich and famous. All of this insanity is commonplace, it’s not cannibalism, it’s justified by the fans wanting to “feel more connected to celebs and to enrich their lives.” (This pixie is fine with an autographed 8×10. Just sayin…)
Syd is also an entrepreneur of sorts, and infects himself with the latest viruses so he can resell them on the black market. His latest conquest comes from Ms. Geist. He is sent on a house call to collect her current illness, and promptly injects himself with it to get the jump on the best black market dollar. Only problem is that this virus deadly, and she has reportedly succumbed to it. So starts the weird journey of Syd and his quest for the cure. He is caught up in a conspiracy and the truth about this virus. It’s hybrid of deadly viruses created to perhaps assassinate Hannah. Syd is enlisted by Hannah’s camp to find the cure, and he agrees, his main motivation being to stay alive. Problem is, everyone wants the infected Syd. All sorts of bad guys, looking to make a fast buck off of Hannah’s death and what courses through the veins of Syd’s scrawny body.
I’m going to make a prediction right here. I predict that Antiviral will become a cult favorite. I feel the young Cronenberg has a similar sensibility to his father. This film had a Crash-like feel to it, with its stark, vulgar images that had their own unique beauty. It is rumoured that all the injection scenes were real, and I thought they had an almost voyeuristic, fetish feel to them. I actually loved the clean, clinical look of this film. The starkness and the symmetry were great companions to the defined spaces within each setting. It was juxtaposed with the gore which, while calculated, still seemed jarring with the clean lines. Another fascinating detail was the virus itself. An apparatus called ReadyFace gave each virus an actual face as an identifier and a safeguard from replicating. They were blurred, grotesque images, and I wondered if they were contorted from ecstasy, pain, terror, or a gleeful evil. I also thought the use of Hannah Geist’s (Sarah Gadon) angelic face throughout the film drove home the point of idolization and a heightened sense of absurd perfection.
What I wished for this movie visually was a whisper of glitz. I felt it needed a different type of lighting as most of the film’s colour seemed a touch flat, although shooting part of the movie in Hamilton, Ontario could be partially to blame for that (don’t hate, just relate. Anyone who’s been to the Hammer knows what I’m talking about…it’s very, um, dystopian). The pacing also needed to be sped up a bit. I wondered when I first started watching it if I could get through it. For all the blood and gore, it is a slow-moving exploration of obsession and in a way, immortality.
I really enjoyed the cast. Malcolm McDowell is always taking risks and stays in the horror/sci-fi genre which I will always admire. He was great as Dr. Abendroth-Syd’s guide for a cure. Sheila McCarthy was a welcomed surprise as Hannah’s handler Dev Harvey, and a veteran Canadian actress that needs a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. And lastly, Landry Jones was very effective with his eccentric, drooling/spewing rag doll portrayal of the ailing Syd. Very cringe worthy.
If you can look past the pace, Anitviral is actually a pretty good film. Definitely different and a great commentary on the general public’s incessant need for a piece of celebrity.
Most Memorable Line: Owner of the clinic Dorian Lucas (Nicholas Campbell) justifies the use of his services by saying, “Celebrities are not people; they are group hallucinations.” Deep!! Something for late night pondering over a bag of Doritos and reality T.V. *eyes all swirly like I’m hypnotized*
Favourite Scene: When Syd is desperately searching for a cure, he jumps his virus pusher, The Butcher, like a maniac. They collect themselves, and the Butcher (Dan Wary-Smith) says, “You kind of caught me off guard.” No, really?!!