Anaemic body horror
It’s often said that the apple rarely falls far from the tree. In the case of Canadian director David Cronenberg’s son Brandon and his debut feature Antiviral, the apple withered on the branch around the time his father was making Videodrome.
In the near future, our fascination with celebrity culture has become such an obsession that for some superfans an autograph just won’t cut it; so desperate to be close to their idols, they willingly infect themselves with viruses harvested from their favourite stars. Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works for The Lucas Clinic, a company that specialises in supplying its clients with celebrity infections. If you want the same strain of herpes as that reality TV star or to catch chickenpox from your favourite actress, Syd’s the man who can make your dream come true.
But he’s not above turning a profit on the side, supplementing his income by infecting himself with celebrity viruses and smuggling them out of the clinic hidden within his own body, selling them on to black marketer and butcher Arvid (Joe Pingue) who also does a nice line in steaks cultured from celebrity tissue - perfect for those of you who always wished Victoria Beckham had more meat on her bones.
But when Syd tries to bootleg the mystery illness afflicting megastar Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon), he gets more than he bargained for when the pathogen kills her. With his body and mind deteriorating and both his employers and the black marketeers after the virus that’s killing him, Syd finds himself in a desperate race against time to cure himself and discover who wanted Hannah dead.
It’d be nice to be able to review Antiviral without ever mentioning director Brandon Cronenberg’s parentage but it’s almost impossible and four paragraphs too late for that anyway. A treacle-slow, soporific meditation on celebrity culture, Cronenberg Jr.’s anaemic body horror feels like the bloodless, asexual clone of one of Daddy’s chilly, early Canadian horror flicks, Shivers without the shagging, Videodrome without the vaginal wounds.
Borrowing the plot of William Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic (high-tech courier smuggles dangerous secrets in his brain that threaten to literally blow his mind), stirring in an unhealthy dollop of bugchasing (the practice where the HIV negative seek out and have unprotected sex with HIV positive partners in an attempt to share infection) and setting the whole mess in what appears to be an Ikea commercial, little Brandy obviously believes he’s saying something deeply intelligent and satirical about our hunger for celebrity – “Look! Look at the sheeple eating steaks made of their idols! That’s you, that is!” – but its all rather obvious, a dilettante hipster’s self-regarding exercise in smuggery.
Albino-pale and lacking even basic animation, Landry Jones and Gadon are suitably bland protagonists, hipster fashion models with red-rimmed eyes and a bad case of the sniffles, devoid of personality and as underdeveloped as a three-week abortion, it’s almost impossible to care about their characters but the script does them no favours and it’s almost a relief when Malcolm McDowell turns up for a few scenes to give us the creeps as Gadon’s doctor, whose unhealthy fascination for his patient really should get him struck off.
Tedious, mannered and not half as smart or funny as it thinks it is, it’s doubtful Antiviral’s slow-incubating mix of body horror and satire will (***OBVIOUS JOKE ALERT***) go viral anytime soon. Instead, why not head down to your nearest Casualty department with a couple of copies of Heat and OK! magazines and bathe in the heady cocktail of celebrity gossip and tuberculosis. The overall effect is much the same.
Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller
1 hour 48 minutes
UK Cinema Release Date:
Friday 1st February