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.
SFX Magazine Wrote
Release Date: 11 February 2013
2013 | 15 | 103 minutes | £12.99
Distributor: Momentum Pictures
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Cast: Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Malcolm McDowell, Douglas Smith, Joe Pingue
It’s 14 years since David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ was released, and impressive though much of the director’s subsequent output has been, a considerable constituency remains exasperated that he’s left body-horror behind. They’ll be delighted by the directorial debut of his son, Brandon, who proves to be a chip off the old block – or rather, a slice off the slab of new flesh.
A Swiftian SF satire whose starting point is our increasing obsession with celebs, Antiviral is crammed with quease-inducing but weirdly plausible ideas which make engineering an ear on a mouse look like growing cress. In this near-future, people are so eager for intimacy with their idols that they’ll pay to be injected with viruses farmed from the famous (for example, having herpes injected into a lip). But that’s just the start: you can also have celebrity skin grafted onto your arm, or buy meat grown from their muscle cells! Imagine that: Ryan Gosling rashers, or a shank of Megan Fox. And you thought Tesco burgers were a bit iffy.
Caleb Landry Jones (X Men: First Class’s Banshee) is magnetic as protagonist Syd March, a salesman who ends up with the same terminal disease as super-celeb Hannah Geist. All poisonous stares and picturesque suffering, he spends half his time glowering as if he’s about to contemptuously spit on the floor. His looks have the illicit glamour of a crack-den fashion shoot.
It’s a film with a clinical aesthetic, where people vomit blood onto gleaming white surfaces, and a nice line in perverse humour. At one point, Malcolm McDowell’s character recounts how his grandmother, having lost her marbles, asked what his latest stool was “intended to communicate”. And anyone with a loathing for Heat and its ilk will chuckle at a celeb news headline: “ARIA’S ANUS ORDEAL”.
For fans of Cronenberg Sr, Antiviral pushes plenty of pleasurable buttons. Obviously, it revisits his obsession with all things viral. Rumours about how Geist is “deformed” down there (“She has to have special underwear made”) are a dead ringer for, er, Dead Ringers. A Tetsuo-esque dream sequence in which Syd sprouts cables from his wrists recalls Max Renn’s hallucinations in Videodrome. And some of the dialogue echoes the gnomic pronouncements of the same film’s “TV prophet”, Brian O’Blivion (“Celebrities are not people – they’re group hallucinations”; “The face is a structure with a high information resolution”).
Indeed, Brandon is so on-brand, the film so archly Cronenbergian, that at times it approaches parody. You might find yourself wondering, for a fleeting moment, if he’s taking the piss out of Pops. But body-horror buffs who feel like Daddy’s deserted them won’t be bothered by that.