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Review: Antiviral (Leeds Film Festival 2012)


Here we go again @ the Leeds Film Festival 2012; and this time it's infectious...

Review: Antiviral (Leeds Film Festival 2012)...

Being a filmmaker and the son of David Cronenberg surely comes with both benefits and pressures; and with that, David’s influence is undoubtedly evident in Brandon Cronenberg’s first feature, Antiviral.

Exploring celebrity obsession, the film is set in an unknown time where people pay to be infected with the same virus celebrities have recently recovered from. As a plot premise this easily slots into David’s cannon of work – his often dubbed “body shock” horrors – and in keeping with many of his sci-fi settings, Brandon’s debut occurs in a morally dubious future, not so far removed from today’s society...allowing for a degree of plausibility throughout.

As a character admits: "I don't think dignity is still valid currency," - perfectly reflecting the murky world of Antiviral. In order to feel closer and more "connected" to celebrities those with enough cash visit The Lucas Clinic (“for the true connoisseur"). A TV interview with the clinic's founder and behind-the-scenes shots explain the logistics of the treatment. Only “sponsored” companies with virus licenses may operate, creating "copy protected" visual representations of the mutated and now non-contagious viruses to sell to clients.

Lucas employee, Syd (Caleb Landry Jones) is the focus of the film after he injects himself with Hannah Geist's (Sarah Gadon) virus only to discover it’s deadly, causing bleeding from the mouth, hallucinations and delusions of grandeur. Although Syd (Caleb Landry Jones) is honoured to "share the powerful bond of death” with Hannah, he’s keen to find a cure before they both die.

Brandon never truly lets us get to know Syd, making him a not particularly sympathetic lead. All we’re shown of his life outside of work is a fridge full of identical packaged sandwiches and bottled drinks. His dealings with clients are as eerie as first shots go - Edward Porris (Douglas Smith) is shown waiting uniformly in an all-white room that almost seems to glow before Syd calls him in. Hard-selling a new virus he dreamily says of its celebrity host: "Her eyes seem to reach right beneath your skin and touch your organs."

Brandon creates exceedingly black humour through his bleak presentation of our culture's dangerous obsession with celebrity. Helping Edward decide where to be injected, Syd says, "On the left side [of the lips] is like she gave it to you in person... You should be showing in a couple of weeks - enjoy". Dealing with a second client, he sells virus "5915 - the first biological communion between you and Aria" and reassures: "the fever should come on just in time for the long weekend."

The mood of Antiviral is as surreal as its premise and Brandon ensures there’s no doubt in our minds the film’s intention is primarily to mock celebrity culture. The "Aria Noble Ordeal" is referred to by the media like a major event on a par in historical importance with The Wall Street Crash or 911. Although there’s a brief mention that there are critics of The Lucas Clinic’s work, Brandon focuses on its supporters. Ringworm from Hannah's dog will soon be on sale for fans with dogs and news excerpts exemplify just how far celebrity hysteria has gone when a fan is described "holding a star's used panty liner".

As Hannah's doctor, Malcolm McDowell even has celebrity skin graft patches along his arm he proudly shows off to Syd. When news travels Syd is infected with the same disease Hanna’s dying from, he’s kidnapped and filmed so her fans can watch him deteriorate and understand what her last days must have been like. Scientist Arvid (Joe Pingue) has rather disgustingly created celebrity steaks from stem cells and is shown offering Syd “some Hannah on the house”.

Subject-matter aside, Brandon also clearly emulates his father’s trademark camera work, creating unnerving visuals throughout. Expect plenty of extreme close-ups and needle shots, sterile scenery, seedy settings, disturbing and bloody dream sequences and unrelentingly depressing visuals right up until his last shocker. Antiviral is certainly not for the faint-hearted and although not without its faults, remains grimly fascinating viewing, combining the mystery/thriller genre with futuristic horror.

4 stars


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#1 Exciting Daniel 2013-01-09 16:45
I love the sound of this, let's just hope he has his dad's talent

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