April 12, 2013 (VOD)
Caleb Landry Jones as Syd March
Sarah Gadon as Hannah Geist
Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Abendroth
Syd is a sales associate for the Lucas Clinic – a place for the ‘true connoisseur’. Through innovative interface technology he and the other associates can transform viruses into non-contagious pathogens – allowing those stricken to feel the effects of the illness without any possibility of passing it on to others except through direct blood to blood contact. Demand is high for particular strains of viruses – the exact strains that infected super-celebrities. These strains can only be obtained from the celebrities themselves – which they sell to the Lucas Clinic and its competitors who – after limiting their contagious properties – infect fans willing to pay the price. Super-celebrity, Hannah Geist, has an exclusive contract with the Lucas Clinic, but a rival firm has devised a sinister breed of corporate espionage with which Syd becomes unwittingly intertwined.
Brandon Cronenberg attempts to live up to his father’s Sci-Fi Horror pedigree with his first serious attempt at the genre.* He offers a glimpse into a world where celebrity fetishes have reached the point that many individuals are willing to infect themselves with diseases simply because it was the same strain that infested their favorite celebrity. Others replace parts of their skin with skin grafts from cloned celebrity tissue. Still more eat cloned celebrity flesh like any other cut of steak you’d pick up at the butcher shop – anything to have a closer connection to a human idol. Cannibalism? Beauty worship? Or maybe just our civilization’s eventual degeneration. In the Neolithic era, tribes would eat the flesh of great warriors after they died – physically consuming the bodies so that their greatness may be passed onto others. Is this just who we are as a people? Or a disturbing commentary about where our obsession with fame and the famous is headed? These are the questions Cronenberg’s world begs.
In addition to painting a rather appalling picture of humanity in the not-so-far future, the storyline fits the mold of a good thriller. Although rather simple on its own, it becomes unexpectedly twisted in this context. The acting isn’t bad and sells the steadily unfolding plot. There are no scares, but appropriately stylistic gore related to illness. After all, it’s cool to have herpes – if it’s Hannah Geist’s herpes. The imagery is grotesque and provocative with an artsy feel. At times the perspective borders on surreal as it matches Syd’s rapid physical and mental decline.
Yet, Antiviral’s strengths are also its weaknesses. Characters exist in a futuristic world, but the only apparent changes are the ingenious ideas stem-cell entrepreneurs employ to make a buck and industry-related innovation. TVs, apartments, vehicles, workspaces, phones – all look the same. Unfortunately the absence of other changes that would make-up a futuristic world degrades the film and forces the viewer’s focus almost exclusively on the very heavy-handed moral message infused in every nook and cranny of the action.
Syd, himself, and the artistic imagery account for further degradation of the action. The story follows Syd’s experiences in this world, but because Syd is sick, or in other ways a dull and solitary sort, scenes can sometimes drag and empathy for his situation becomes more difficult to summon. At other times artsy scenes – occasionally difficult to interpret – seem to have been inserted at the expense of the story.
Bottom Line: Antiviral is the product of a disturbing theme that overpowers everything else – story, acting and character development. At times your mouth will be agape, but at other times you will think the message too preachy. No scares in this one, but it is a memorably unique undertaking that horror fans will enjoy.
* – Brandon Cronenberg is the son of David Cronenberg, director of The Fly (1986) and Scanners(1981)