A celeb-obsessed chip off the old body-horror block.
DIRECTED BY BRANDON CRONENBERG
Driven by the sorts of provocative ideas and prurient imagery that will do father David proud, Brandon Cronenberg’s debut feature imagines a world in which obsession with celebrity has reached radical, literally pathological extremes: In Antiviral‘s satirical, dystopian realm, public fascination with the rich and famous is so intense that fans will pay dearly for the privilege of being injected with their idols’ diseases.
Syd Marsh (the pallid, hollow-cheeked, Caleb Landry Jones) works for a leading purveyor of celebrity pathogens, which enjoys a lucrative licensing deal with tabloid darling Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon). Between administering clients with the starlet’s very own strain of herpes, Syd injects himself with illnesses on the sly as a means to smuggle them to black market buyers. His sideline takes a sinister turn, however, when, after mainlining Geist’s latest malady, he learns that its effects are fatal.
It’s also at this point that Cronenberg’s previously clinical control of his material slackens. Though he renders his protagonist’s deterioration with relish (and copious quantities of fake blood), there’s a curious lack of urgency to the film’s latter developments, as Syd’s efforts to find a cure become entwined with a ponderous conspiracy subplot. There’s also little nuance to the pic’s portrait of celeb-obsessed society, clever though it may be. Nonetheless, as a chip off Cronenberg Senior’s old body-horror block, Antiviral shows perverse promise.