Antiviral, the feature debut of David Cronenberg’s 28-year-old son Brandon, is set in near future Toronto in a world obsessed with celebrity culture.
A clean, white clinic takes celebrity viruses before injecting them to desperate fans willing to pay a premium, while a black market pushes famous flesh to eat and skin to graft for those less fussy and further down the food chain.
Syd March, played by Caleb Landry Jones, is the tormented youth responsible for that transaction. He’s given the coveted job of traveling to the home of elusive superstar Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon) – who is suffering an illness. Extracting her blood, March can’t help but inject himself with what may be a priceless virus, before extracting his blood at home and pedaling it on increasingly dangerous city backstreets.
Brandon, it seems, has been injected with the same nagging tick that grew inside his father back in the 1970s. This film fits seamlessly into the slightly dated body of work known as body-horror, a sub-genre almost totally owned by the old man.
Cronenberg Snr. has moved on – his films now strike at lethargy and malaise not restricted to one’s body, but to something more communal, societal. Why, then, has his son so deliberately yoked Cronenberg’s early period? Why has he made a film so exposing of its influences, so irresistibility full of irony?
The answer, I think, is counterintuitive. Brandon’s direction is formal and rigorous; he rarely edits, providing a film of glacial stillness of straight lines and sharp contrasts. It gives the sense of ice-cool objectivity that hides the film’s very deep and very sharp satirical edge.
Celebrity culture is a big and easy target – but maybe that’s not his point of attack. Antiviral is a personal plea layered beneath high-conceit. The joke is at our expense; we’re still ill, but Brandon has found a cure, and a chance to hatch his own germs.
Antiviral is in cinemas today.
Text: Tom Seymour