Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Brandon Cronenberg, director and script
Starring: Caleb Landry Jones (Syd March), Sarah Gadon (Hannah Geist), Malcolm McDowell (Dr. Abendroth), Douglas Smith (Edward Porris), Joe Pingue (Arvid), Nick Campbell (Dorian)
The first film by David Cronenberg’s son Brandon attracted attention at this year’s Cannes, where for the first time, two generations of directors were both represented in competition at the festival. Adding to the hype was the story Brandon chose to create—a sci-fi tale dealing with disease and the media. Sound like a film by another Cronenberg?
Science fiction, horror film, satire on celebrity culture
In the near future, obsessed fans buy and inject diseases of the stars they love. Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), a top salesman for the firm that represents Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon) is given the prestigious job of extracting a sample of her latest illness when she arrives in town. After he injects the disease in himself, March discovers that he and Geist have a fatal illness. Can he save them?
Cronenberg’s film isn’t intended for actors to dominate scenes. Gadon appears to be playing a model; in any case, she simply has to look tragic and iconic—and she does that very well. Like Gadon, Jones has a compelling look but is not scripted with much personality to engage the viewer. He’s a cipher, which serves the interests of the story. Only Malcolm McDowell is allowed to act (in the conventional sense) and the star of A Clockwork Orange is impressive as Geist’s doctor.
Brandon Cronenberg has created a convincing dystopian future. He’s kept his main characters at a distance, framing them in spaces—non-descript apartments, a sterile lab, a butcher shop—that are stark and chilly. The younger Cronenberg stages shots well, framing Syd March in vulnerable positions, seemingly ready at any point to be brutalized or killed. The “look” of the film is compellingly clinical, with a repetitive motif of characters being injected with needles.
Antiviral offers a sharp critique of our society’s dual love of celebrities and drugs. The film extrapolates what those compulsions might do to our culture if allowed to grow unchecked. Cronenberg’s film is fascinating but…he’s crafted a film with no sympathetic characters and an awful lot of dire situations. Apart from horror film fanatics and Cronenberg acolytes, who will go to this movie? I suspect that this film will get a chilly reception despite its artistic credentials.