In a future society in which obsession over celebrity culture has reached its peak, people pay to be injected with a virus from their favorite star. Directed by Brandon Cronenberg, the son of legendary cult film director David Cronenberg, Antiviral is a fascinating and uncomfortable − if murky and unclear − horror film that takes celebrity obsession to a whole new level.
The main character Syd works for the Lucas Clinic, a company that purchases the pathogens from under-the-weather celebrities and makes a profit by injecting them into its clients.
The Cannes and Toronto International Film Festival hit was released on DVD after a yearlong wait. The DVD includes two notable features that should please fans of the trademark David Cronenberg “body horror,” which his son fully embraces in this film.
The first feature is a commentary with the filmmakers that reveals a lot about their intentions behind the film and its contemporary message.
The second feature is a behind-the-scenes “Making Of” documentary, which will probably attract the most attention - especially for viewers familiar with David Cronenberg's work, which has shocked us with its unsettling portrayals of body transformations and infections.
Antiviral has plenty of that, and the behind-the-scenes featurette offers some great technical play on how they pulled off some of the grosser scenes in the film.
The film itself is definitely worth watching. Horror and sci-fi fans and even fans of independent and art house films will appreciate Antiviral. It's gorgeously shot, and the cinematographers create a truly sterile environment − one that's reminiscent of a clinical utopia. This also creates a contrast to the blood and pus.
The performances in the film are strong as well. Caleb Landry Jones, who was in X-Men: First Class and “Friday Night Lights,” plays Syd. Jones does a fantastic job playing an introverted Lucas Clinic employee who is using his body as an incubator for the pathogens, which he then sells on the black market for extra money. He is a man rapidly growing ill, and his more intense scenes make the most of the body horror.
Also be sure to look out for Malcolm McDowell, the star of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.
Antiviral manages to convey its dark subject matter as both grotesque and beautiful. It will have viewers in awe of the masterful visuals and wincing in discomfort and queasiness at its bodily discharges. It's a merciless commentary on celebrity fascination and how far it could go in the future.
While the film has a unique premise and pulls off superior technical and aesthetic feats, it fails to keep its plot line in order. Not only does it tend to drag on after the most exhilarating of sequences; it also remains consistently ambiguous in a bad way. It lacks any clear explanation to at least update the audience on what is happening.
The plot is not necessarily complex, just confusing. It is jumbled in a way that becomes tiresome and causes the audience to lose interest in the movie entirely, an unfortunate downside to its focus on visual excellence.
Antiviral is a unique experience that revives the genre of body horror but ultimately lacks direction and closure.