Antiviral [Blu-Ray]

Brandon Cronenberg

BY Robert BellPublished Apr 19, 2013

Superficially, Brandon Cronenberg's debut feature, Antiviral, draws obvious inspirations from the works of acclaimed father David. It's a "down the rabbit hole" horror and sci-fi hybrid preoccupied with the modification and deterioration of the physical body in relation to psychological illness. But beyond the stylized, sensationalist similarities between Brandon's work and his progenitor's, this story about Syd (Caleb Landry Jones) — a celebrity virus insider that deliberately contracts a mystery illness from superstar Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon) — has a caustic wit specific to Brandon's disposition adjacent the media world. The central concept, or guiding gag, is that of delusion and celebrity worship. The world of Antiviral is one where fans attribute their fantasies and ideations to the glossy image of actors, who are, in turn, little more than image performance. Audaciously and quite aggressively, Cronenberg has compared our modern consumer lack of discernment with a form of cannibalism and deliberate self-harm, showing a world quick to share the illness and disease of their favourite movie star as a means of connection. Going even further, he's created a world where fans can eat the muscle protein of their favourite idol in steak form — something that exaggerates the vulgarity of the grotesque consumer ethos. Where this rage towards our collective preoccupation with tabloid B.S. holds a bit of intrigue beyond the very superficial, youthful observations treated hyperbolically within is Cronenberg's relationship with it all. Much like protagonist Syd, he is close enough to this smoke and mirrors world to have an understanding of how people respond to it. As this idiosyncratic, introspective and socially isolated protagonist shares a connection — illness — with Hannah Geist, those around him attempt exploit him to obtain the virus swimming through his bloodstream. They lie to him, pretend to be his friend, beat him and eventually leave him to rot after they get what they want. In a way, Antiviral is like the viral projection of his father's work, mirroring the superficial elements fans clamour for while deconstructing his relationship with it. This is a clever proposition, but it's also one littered with an abundance of rudimentary filmmaking hiccups, such as unadorned self-indulgence, a padded, mostly directionless plot and an over-reliance on design and shock. Very little moves beyond this central premise, leaving the actual film, aside from its angry indictment of modern culture, to flounder in poor pacing and a childish preoccupation with crude imagery and the vaginal presentation of lips. Still, some of the shot compositions and stark set design is quite impressive, which is something to consider after the joke of it all has lost its humour. The Blu-Ray is crammed with special features, including a commentary track, which, to be honest, is painful to listen to considering his affected, despondent, deliberately unemotional speech, in addition to supplements on the set design and nature of celebrity. There's also a half-hour piece on the "making of," which talks about financing and casting, primarily.

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