Fantastic Fest 2012
By Don Simpson | September 23, 2012
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Writer: Brandon Cronenberg
Starring: Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Malcolm McDowell, Douglas Smith, Joe Pingue, Nicholas Campbell, James Cade, Kim Ly, Reid Morgan
I would expect nothing less from the son of David Cronenberg to craft his debut feature in the frigidly foreboding fashion of his father’s oeuvre. Brandon Cronenberg does not necessarily mimic his father, but the cinematic likeness is still quite uncanny. That said, Antiviral is much more blatant and obvious than anything David Cronenberg has made in the last 30 years; the narrative lacks the intricate layers of subtext for which David Cronenberg is known, opting to project messages that are much more in your face.
First and foremost, Antiviral does not hide its repulsion for celebrity worship. Using an undefined future as its palate, Cronenberg literally turns society’s desire to (figuratively) consume its stars into purposefully transmitted diseases and cannibalism. Seemingly as a side effect of this grotesque world, sexual desire is totally vanquished and human relationships have completely disintegrated.
So are the events that occur in Antiviral an unavoidable conclusion for our pop culture obsessed society? Will people eventually resort to injecting themselves with diseases and ingesting synthetic celebrity matter just to become closer to the celebrities they adore? It seems ridiculous absurd, but really just how far are we from that world? Do we not already rabidly consume celebrity culture via magazines and television? As much as it chills me to think it, a repressed sick and twisted demand for this strange world proposed by Cronenberg already seems to exist.
And, oh what a world it is… Cronenberg bleaches the backdrop of the future in white (then again, isn’t the future always portrayed in glimmering white?), giving us a very black and white world, one with very little good and a whole lot of bad. The most innocent characters in Antiviral are the celebrities, so much so they are practically angelic. The consumers seem incapable of thought, so they too possess some level of naive innocence. It is the middlemen — the salesmen — that are the most lecherous and conniving. They milk the celebrities bone dry, leaving them to die, while telling the consumers exactly what they really want. The black market for these dealings is exponentially more menacing, as the scale of supply and demand is carefully manipulated.
If made by his father, Antiviral would have fit perfectly between Scanners, Existenz and Cosmopolis. In fact, there is a very fine line between Robert Pattinson in Cosmopolis and Caleb Landry Jones in Antiviral, just listen to their accents and speech patterns. They also seem to have the same fashion sense, though Jones is certainly more crumpled than Pattinson, with his unkempt hair and perpetually “sick” demeanor.
As a first film, Antiviral is pretty freaking amazing. It is very rare that a first film is produced with such high production value and accented with quality supporting actors like Malcolm McDowell; but, of course, with Cronenberg’s impeccable pedigree, what else would we expect?
(Also check out Anna Bielak’s interview with Brandon Cronenberg.)