IFC Films // Unrated // April 12, 2013
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted April 11, 2013
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David Cronenberg is known for the weird spin that he puts on his motion pictures. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, since his son, Brandon Cronenberg, has incorporated numerous aspects found in his father's features into his debut called Antiviral. This piece of arthouse cinema provides social commentary, as well as where we could end up if we continue along this path. It's difficult to place this film in a specific genre, since it combines many elements from horror, sci-fi, and more. However, it fits into the Cronenberg-feel that moviegoers are so familiar with. The plot will even deliver a similar reaction, but Brandon Cronenberg is working with his own unique ideas here. There are numerous smart concepts here that will have you hooked, yet disturbed. While a story can look fantastic on paper, the execution is equally important. Unfortunately, it doesn't entirely come together on screen.

In the near future, society has become increasingly obsessed with celebrities. Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works for a company called Lucas Clinic, which is well-known for connecting consumers to celebrities. The masses pay to have the stars' diseases injected into them. Syd decides to make some extra money on the side by smuggling the diseases in his body in order to sell them on the black market. When an incredibly beautiful and famous actress, Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon), becomes ill with an unknown virus, Syd retrieves it within a syringe. He quickly injects himself with it, which soon begins to take effect. Syd must discover the secrets behind Hannah's sickness if he hopes to save his own life. The Lucas Clinic worker finds himself progressively losing his sanity along the way.

Brandon Cronenberg's dark world quickly displays its odd roots. Some audiences might instantly be turned off by how blunt this picture is. This screenplay has absolutely no restraints on its disturbing nature, especially in the way that it's portrayed through the feature's message. People around the world have become obsessed with the fame and beauty found within celebrities. However, since this is a satire of society, it's intentionally over-the-top. Nearly everything here is exaggerated to where it needs to be. While Antiviral can definitely get gross with its constant needle-poking and diseases, it holds a haunting atmosphere. The consumers' desire to obtain such diseases are both sickening and creepy. This is incorporated with the disgusting purchases of steaks that contain cells implanted from the celebrities, developing a form of cannibalism. This element's deeper meaning discusses our physical consumption of the fame and fortune that these stars have obtained. It's a sickening, horrible, and terrifying concept that Cronenberg wisely incorporated. Unfortunately, the material that would make Antiviral worth recommending are only seen through the minority of the running time.

The screenplay has a lot of intriguing pathways, but a lot of the plot progressions are unnecessary. These sequences critically affect the film's pacing. The story will have you hooked at times, but it completely stops in its footsteps quite often. It introduced an interesting thought, but it repeatedly visits some strikingly similar ideas. Once the credits are rolling, you'll feel as if you were hit over the head with this message on multiple occasions. Brandon Cronenberg was truly on to something special, but he fails to take this story anywhere. The audience is stuck following one character, who we never connect with. For a film about the masses, this picture is surprisingly limited. I kept waiting for the story to expand the scope, but it never does. Cronenberg remains zoomed in to this particular story, which continues to fall on its face. However, it refuses to stay down, as it constantly attempts to get back on its feet, but it doesn't manage to entirely recover from the self-inflicted damage.

Antiviral is fairly nasty, but it doesn't have much of an effect in the long run. It might stick in your mind for a few hours after viewing it, but there isn't anything to keep it around for very much longer. There's definitely enough material to create a worthwhile discussion, even despite the feature's limited perspective. This story left me wanting to learn more about the nature of this society, and less about the ongoings of Syd March's story progressions. There are numerous scenes that contain a strong amount of potential, but Cronenberg doesn't explore any of the pockets he created. While Antiviral will disgust many viewers throughout the running time, you'll feel that a lot of open doors were ignored. Cronenberg spent a lot of time dealing with the small details, but gave almost no attention to the bigger picture. Each time he started to drift onto a different path, he would inevitably direct himself back to Syd's situation. Some viewers might appreciate the small scale, but it felt counteractive.

Even though Syd March didn't do very much for me, Caleb Landry Jones is exceptional in this role. He's creepy, mysterious, yet he brings a lot of depth to the character. While we don't learn a lot about Syd, this performance considerably enhanced his character depth. Sarah Gadon doesn't receive a lot of screen time, but she's incredibly believable as Hannah Geist. Gadon is absolutely beautiful, but her short discussion with Syd definitely feels hypnotizing. Malcolm McDowell makes an appearance as Dr. Abendroth. He's on screen for an even shorter period of time than Gadon, but he delivers what he can. There aren't any bad performance to speak of, as each actor heightens this picture's more intense moments.

Cronenberg's feature debut displays the beauty of an arthouse picture, along with the grotesque nature of a horror flick. There's a decent amount of blood, along with an abundance of needle-penetrating shots. Antiviral doesn't contain a lot of color, which allows the blood red to pop. The majority of the picture contains a lot of grays, whites, and blacks. This only enhances the desired tone. This might be the director's first movie, but he clearly knows how to handle a camera. This is a well-shot motion picture that carries the beauty of the stars it's portraying. I'm curious to see where Brandon Cronenberg takes his style next. When it comes to the visuals, this picture looks great.

Even though I wasn't crazy about it, Antiviral isn't a complete waste of time. Brandon Cronenberg has a lot of interesting ideas, but he needs to work on his execution. This is a solid screenplay that would surely look better on paper than on film. Cronenberg limits his focus, which makes the running time feel longer than it actually is. There could have been a lot more material, but this movie constantly retreats along its own footsteps instead of moving forward. Ultimately, the story feels stretched. This could have made an impressive short, but it doesn't quite work as a feature film. Antiviral scratches the skin, but never manages to pierce it. Rent it.

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