Antiviral (Frank’s Take) film review.
The creepy creativity does not fall far from the twisted tree in the filmmaking realm of writer-director Brandon Cronenberg. Brandon, son of Canadian auteur David Cronenberg (‘Videodrome’, ‘The Fly’), illustrates the fright-oriented frivolity of the ‘family business’ in the gloom-and-doom medical thriller ‘Antiviral’. The younger Cronenberg does not disappoint as the trademark trappings of his impishly venomous vehicle percolates in the macabre mannerisms of his proud papa courtesy of the gratuitous gift wrapping of blood-spilling and bone-crunching close-ups.
‘Antiviral’ is a warped celebration of decaying decadence and actually celebrates its repulsiveness with solid verve. Despite the morose machinations of Cronenberg’s surgical creepfest, ‘Antivirus’ is shot rather glossy in its stylised mode and balances itself effectively with the dark and dim overtones of the stab-and-slab material. At times, Cronenberg’s body-functioning horror show misses the mark as an eerie satirical riff on the opportunistic medical profession and the desperate folks willing to succumb to the off-kilter demands of the sacrificial outrageousness embedded in the health care system. Plus, the obsession with celebrity is touched upon with broad awkward sardonic winks. Still, ‘Antiviral’ has enough off-balance vigor to convey the murky messaging of its gory giddiness.
Cronenberg may not quite have the narrative discipline to showcase the chill factor-inspired chops as effortlessly demonstrated by his father David in some of his earlier films laced with crafty wickedness and wit. Nevertheless, Cronenberg’s debut feature is undoubtedly playful and perverse in the menacing yet ridiculing way it wants to hold both sides accountable (the medical community and the eager consumers) for the rigors of experimentation combining major ailments with over-the-top foolish adulation. It is an ambitious juggling act for a horror flick to inject such cynical sentiments among the rancid ruins of opportunistic medicine, media attention and mayhem.
Imagine a futuristic world where common ‘nobodies’ can idolise the rich and famous ‘somebodies’ just by injecting themselves with celebrity-coated viruses, diseases and germs willingly donated from the infected blood of these notable stars? Certainly one can vehemently argue that taking on the ardent celebrity worshipping practices from everyday Joe Schmoes to this ridiculously dangerous extent is too obsessive to say the least. However, it is a reality and a risky gesture that promotes the fantasy-ridden impulse to get ‘up and close’ personally with your favorite idol-of-the-moment. Naturally, the cautionary lesson behind Cronenberg’s potent sentiment is that the true sickness we all share is the inane disease we crave called the celebrity culture.
Pony-tailed virus clinical worker Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones, ‘X-Men: First Class’) is such a guinea pig willing to take advantage of the viral injection despite disobeying the policies at his Toronto-based Lucas Clinic. In this case, Syd has chosen to secretly poke himself with the blood of world famous beauty Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon, ‘Cosmopolis’). As if that is not enough mischievousness, Syd opts to sell his ill-gotten Geist gains on the black market as he regularly reports to contact man Arvid (Joe Pingue).
Soon, Syd will pay a heavy price for his virus-snatching indulgences when he becomes severely sick while undergoing a series of threatening hallucinations, fevers and collapses. It is not long before Syd discovers that the coveted blood he has been obtaining from his targeted tart Hannah is tainted and treacherous. In fact, Hannah suddenly dies and now this has left Syd hastily wondering what he will do in order to survive since he is carrying the deceased starlet’s virus that has caused her hasty demise. Can Syd uncover the mystery behind Hannah’s death and prevent the same tragic consequences from claiming his life that is now in serious jeopardy?
Overall, ‘Antiviral’ is refreshingly bizarre, devilish, calculating and intriguing. Cronenberg’s exposition is gleefully disturbing although occasionally labored at times. The colorful mixture of sci-fi elements, horror freak show, medical mystery and the commentary on superficial notoriety strangely hits its stride although unevenly at frequent shifts in the movie’s pacing. Cronenberg’s fetish-minded flourishes with bodily fluids and festering anatomical parts fits in with his movie-making daddy’s DNA profiling in creaky capers.
If one was not thrilled with taking any blood tests in the first place then ‘Antiviral’ will give them the reason to maintain this lingering aversion.
1 hr. 46 mins.
Starring: Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Malcolm McDowell, Douglas Smith, Nicholas Campbell, Lisa Berry and Joe Pingue
Directed by: Brandon Cronenberg
MPAA Rating: NR
Genre: Science Fiction/Horror/Mystery & Suspense/Fantasy
Critic’s rating: ** ½ stars (out of 4 stars)