Film Review: Antiviral
Proving the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Brandon ‘son of David’ Cronenberg makes his directing debut with this weird body horror which plays like a mixture of the cold, futuristic Cronenberg of today with the gory, oddball Cronenberg of early features like Shivers and Rabid. In the near future, Syd (the pasty, creepy Caleb Landry Jones) is employed by a company who purchase diseases and illnesses suffered by celebrities to sell to obsessive fans. Syd also injects himself with pathogens to sell on the black market. Then, a major celebrity dies, Syd gets found out and lots of other weird events occur. I’d like to be able to describe more, but Cronenberg doesn’t; somehow, he’s managed to make a film with less clarity and understandable narrative than his father’s magnum opus of strange, Videodrome.
While it’s good to see a new horror director attempt something bold and original, playing it this close to his father’s work means Brandon will be compared to David’s work, and if that’s the case, then this is certainly the worst film a Cronenberg has made. Despite Brandon picking up some of David’s better traits (smart satire, unforgettable images), he’s picked most of the features that made a lot of his recent output far less popular: The dense, difficult language of A Dangerous Method; the cold, impassive characters of Cosmopolis; and the slow pace of Spider. Combined, these elements make for a really tough film to like, enjoy, or take anything away from. I got the basic morals and ideology about how far celebrity culture will go, but that’s a basic point stretched taut by numerous random plot developments, unpleasant gore and only the slightest hint of excitement or interest.
There’s definitely potential for Brandon to succeed, given his flair for set design and intriguing visuals. It’s important to remember that his father didn’t start off perfectly either; Shivers, Rabid and Scanners are all massively flawed films. In the future, perhaps Brandon will be able to correctly juggle satire, gore and story and pull off a fantastic horror film. At the moment though, he isn’t quite there, and Antiviral is a mostly boring, inert horror that features some interesting ideas, but is ultimately too talky, confusing and glacially paced to be an enjoyable film.
By Harry Ford