Review: Antiviral

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Caleb Landry Jones in Brandon Cronenberg's Antiviral
Caleb Landry Jones in Brandon Cronenberg's Antiviral



 London Film Festival, 2012-10-15


What’s that, you say, Cronenberg? Surely not a relation of David? Indeedy, this is the son, Brandon, and, apples not falling far from tree, chips flying off of old blocks, he serves us up a rather lipsmacking portion of body-horror just like dad used to make. And the lips, as you might have guessed, are blistered with herpes.

We’re in a parallel world – it looks like today but the celebrity fever has got to such a point that people are willing, happy, to be injected with the cold sores of the rich and famous, are buying and eating the cloned muscle tissue of the stars, in an attempt to get whatever it is that the star-obsessed think it is they’re getting from these one-sided transactions with the well known.

And into this slightly steampunky, dials-and-pistony world, Cronenberg injects the actor Caleb Landry Jones, a pasty youth – thin, odd-looking, intense, handsome in a drowned-body kind of way, a perfect piece of casting as it turns out, because he looks as vapid and unwholesome as the world he uneasily inhabits.

If you want to know what actually happens, go and see this excellent, low-budget sci-fi thriller, it’s really worth it. All I’ll say about the plot is that Landry Jones plays a lab rat at a celebrity tissue clinic and the one thing he really shouldn’t do is take any bits of famous people home with him… so of course he does.

Nicely, Cronenberg leaves quite a few things unexplained, which forces us to work out the dynamics of this world, which adds to the sense of dread and mystery. In terms of visuals, Cronenberg has been heavily influenced by the science-gone-bad vibe of his dad (The Fly and Ringers, for instance) by Kubrick, by Philip K Dick, and by the Aseptic White Room Thriller genre (Vincenzo Natali’s Cube being the daddy).

In fact technically this is a very well accomplished film in every respect. The effects are done old-school, make-up and fake blood featuring heavily. This is merciful because CGI, in spite of all the Kraken-y, Hobbit-y things done with them, just aren’t good enough yet. The soundtrack is deliberately loud but not intrusive, builds tension brilliantly as the story builds towards a grisly though entirely logical conclusion – there is no happy ending bollocks here.

Dad’s hand is everywhere but let’s give kudos to the son, who has made the sort of film that will be gulped down gleefully by the horror nuts, but also by those whose nostrils tremble sensitively at the mention of “celebrity”. A word about the support casting, which is perfect throughout, all the support actors doing exactly what is required of them, which removes a layer of storytelling necessity from Cronenberg, leaving him to get on with the business of being nasty.

© Steve Morrissey 2012


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Antiviral (2012) Horror, Mystery, Sci-Fi | 108min | 1 February 2013 (UK) 5.7
Director: Brandon CronenbergWriter: Brandon CronenbergStars: Caleb Landry Jones, Lisa Berry, Sarah GadonSummary: Syd March is an employee at a clinic that sells injections of live viruses harvested from sick celebrities to obsessed fans. Biological communion - for a price. Syd also supplies illegal samples of these viruses to piracy groups, smuggling them from the clinic in his own body. When he becomes infected with the disease that kills super sensation Hannah Geist, Syd becomes a target for collectors and rabid fans. He must unravel the mystery surrounding her death before he suffers the same fate. Written by Rhombus Media


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