Movie Review – Antiviral (2012)
For genre fans, the name Cronenberg is synonymous with body horror, tales where the body betrays the host through disease, deformity or ethical reasoning. David Cronenberg perfected the style, especially in films like 1986’s remake of The Fly. So it was with great anticipation that I watched his son’s debut film, 2012’s Antiviral. Brandon Cronenberg shows us a near future in which celebrity worship has gone to extremes, where obsessed fans pay huge money to be infected with their favorite stars’ diseases. As the movie progresses, like a true pox, the obsession grows deeper and more distasteful.
Cronenberg fills his beautiful shots with white sterile spaces, making the blood stand out when it is introduced. We see many shots of needles piercing arms and the main character, played effectively by Caleb Landry Jones, growing weaker as his body is overtaken by infection. We’re never truly sure how much he buys into the celebrity obsession until the final scene. The script is smart and the younger Cronenberg has shown that he is a worthy successor, and not simply a duplicate, of his father. The direction shows a confidence and clear vision that is the work of a promising filmmaker. Where Antiviral is lacking is largely in character development. We never learn much about the characters, and they generally serve as tools to move the plot along rather than to take on lives of their own.
Regardless, the movie is thought provoking and serves as a disturbing metaphor for the lengths to which people will go to fill their lives with meaning. They live vicariously through the famous, no longer searching for meaning in their own lives, no longer looking within for answers and direction. At one point an accomplished doctor says he’s always regarded belief in God as infantile, but expounds the meaning he’s found in grafting celebrity skin onto himself, effectively replacing one deity with another, the former which is invisible and esoteric, the latter which he can physically see and caress. It’s not enough for people to admire celebrities: they must own them, consume them, and dominate them. It’s celebrity worship heightened to zealotry and frightening fetishism. It’s a sickening vision, and one that someone is not likely to forget the next time they pass the tabloids in the supermarket or their channel surfing pauses on E! Entertainment.