Saturday, September 15, 2012


(Canada, 2012)
Cast: Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Malcolm McDowell, Douglas Smith
Written by: Brandon Cronenberg
Directed by: Brandon Cronenberg

Brandon Cronenberg claimed in the press notes and at the post-screening Q&A that he's never seen any of his father's films.  His father, incidentally, is none of other than David Cronenberg, once crowned "King Of Venereal Horror" and known for such distinctive horror classics as "Shivers", "Rabid", "The Brood", "Scanners", and "Videodrome", before becoming more mainstream later in his career with the likes of "A History Of Violence" and "Eastern Promises".

I can't imagine how one could reach his late 20s and not have at least accidentally come across his father's work on television, even while channel surfing, but assuming this statement is true (c'mon, he wasn't ever curious--not once?), then there's something to be said of David's statement that "biology is destiny".  .  It defies any categorization but one, and that is the term Cronenbergian...but not to belittle Brandon at all--despite an overlapping sensibility and some story-specific elements, it's a distinctive, and utterly original, debut.

Cronenberg claims the conceit came to him while watching an appearance by Sarah Michelle Geller on Jimmy Kimmel Live, when she complained of a cold and swore if she sneezed she'd "infect the entire audience", and the crowd perversely cheered...

Sometime in presumably the near-future, Syd March (Jones), works for The Lucas Clinic, a biotech firm that specializes in selling celebrity diseases to the public.   Agents make deals with company to harvest various strains of disease, illnesses, and infections--everything from venereal diseases to common colds--distil them into a portable product, which can then be injected to those fans who want to share an experience with their object of devotion. 

On the side, though, Syd infects himself with his company's "products", extracts them from his body (courting illness and death with each sample), and sells them to the black market.  One of his most loyal customers is a butcher shop that sells cuts of meat genetically-engineered from celebrity cells. 

Syd's own obsession is ubiquitous actress Hannah Geist (Gadon), whose representation calls Syd to harvest some of her disease--which is killing her--for sale to the clinic.  He immediately injects himself, of course, but then, Hannah dies.  She lives, but only through him.  The ultimate fan dilemma...

In a world where, not so long ago, John Lennon's tooth, Britney Spears' (used) gum, and Brad Pitt's breath sold at auctions for some serious coin, "Antiviral"s premise is powerful because it is all-too-likely.  Any advance in technology is eventually embraced for the dumbest possible use--cell phones, the Internet--so why wouldn't any breakthroughs post-mapping-the-genome result in anything different?

Re-edited to reportedly a tighter running time after its spring Cannes premiere, "Antiviral"  wastes nary a scene or detail  (despite some criticisms of a dull third act, I found the entire thing to be gripping from top to bottom). Beautifully shot by Karim Hussain, its ambient, white-on-white, antiseptic aesthetic (punctuated by shocking glimpses of all things bodily-oriented and horrible) owes as much to "THX 1138" as it does "Dead Ringers".

©Robert J. Lewis 2012