Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Antiviral (2012)

The feature length debut from writer/director Brandon Cronenberg, Antiviral is a cold, creepy mix of satire and body horror, set in a world where people do not just want to get under the skin of celebrities, they want to get the celebrities under their skin.
Caleb Landry Jones plays Syd March, a worker at a clinic that takes live viruses from ill celebrities and sells them to obsessed fans. He also has a lucrative sideline selling pirate samples, smuggling them out in his own body. When Syd becomes infected with a disease that kills super star Hannah Geist, he must solve the mystery surrounding her death before he succumbs next.

Brandon Cronenberg is the son of "body horror" pioneer David, so comparisons are inevitable and perhaps unavoidable, but given the subject matter and the execution, these would arise anyway, no matter who was behind the camera. Some of the tropes, such as the morally dubious corporation, body modification, and the lone man getting into a situation way out of his depth, will be familiar from earlier films of Cronenberg Sr., such as Videodrome and Shivers (as well as from the writings of William Burroughs, a big influence on David). In addition, like those films, the story moves at a slow, deliberate pace, with the emphasis is on the exploration of ideas rather than characters, or heavy handed moralising.


However, Antiviral is by no means a slavish copy of any of these, with a style and contemporary look of its own, which contrasts with the grungy feel and slightly lurid, exploitation movie trappings of a film like Shivers. The sleek white offices of the Lucas Clinic, with smiling receptionists and plasma screen TVs pumping out a constant information dense stream of news, feel like the headquarters of any large corporation anywhere in the world today, while the recognisable contemporary urban landscapes help root the more outrageous ideas in reality.

There are also some recurring motifs in the camerawork, especially the handheld, over the shoulder shot, which crops up repeatedly, and made me think of a paparazzi stalking it’s prey.
The piracy storyline gives the film a very contemporary feel, but also with an outrageous twist, that sees the pirated cells used by a delicatessen to create the ultimate in celebrity tie-in merchandise. Special mention must also go to the soundtrack by E.C. Woodley, a mix of glacial cold glacial strings and throbbing synths.

The lack of sympathetic, fully rounded characters and the detached, intellectual approach to the subject matter will mean Antiviral is not for everyone, but it is a fascinating debut, and leaves me intrigued as to where Cronenberg will go next with his career.