It can be argued that obsession with celebrities began centuries ago when twelve men decided it would be a good idea to follow around a guy who had long hair. Undoubtedly, this fascination with superstars has only grown since then. The film industry often turns its lens on society, so it is no surprise that there have been many movies on the subject. Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral takes a unique look at the topic.
Released in 2012, Antiviral takes place in the near future. Society is so infatuated with celebrities that clinics sell viruses from sick stars and their muscle tissues are cultivated and sold as steaks to be consumed by the masses. The film does an excellent job of showing that there is nothing more important than being famous. The escalated levels of celebrity worship are seen throughout the movie. News seems to be run by the paparazzi, televisions are everywhere, and giant billboards with the most famous stars cover the sides of buildings. Cronenberg’s vision of the future is not much different from our present, and it is terrifying.
This interesting take on fandom permeates almost every shot in the movie, but it is not just celebrity that the film examines; sickness is another important theme in Antiviral. Multiple scenes take place against clinically white backgrounds giving the movie a sterile feel. Meanwhile, the cast are usually clothed in dark colors. In an intelligent bit of film making, the few moments in the movie that do not have a famous personality are dimly lit. Cronenberg appears to be asking if society’s idols are ill or if it’s society itself that’s truly sick. Essentially, people are the disease in Antiviral’s world.
Caleb Landry Jones does a fine job as Syd March for the majority of the movie. He’s an employee at Lucas Clinic, one of the top celebrity pathogen clinics thanks to its exclusivity deal with the world’s biggest superstar, Hannah Geist. When the audience first meets Syd, he’s coldly calm. He talks to customers with a poised indifference, co-workers assume he has access to the newest diseases, and he callously sells celebrity sicknesses on the black market. Jones plays the role with a restrained self-assurance. Syd isn’t just a character, he is a part of this anesthetized world. Unfortunately, this becomes a problem when the movie’s tone becomes more hectic. Jones varies his acting very little, leading to what could have been impactful scenes falling flat. This is only limited to the middle part of the movie, as Jones’s acting shifts gears for the thrilling tone of the third act.
Antiviral’s interesting premise begins to lag in the second act. The middle of the movie veers away from its examination of society and instead becomes a murder mystery. Initially, the extreme depths of star worship are still shown. As Syd becomes literally ill, the audience witnesses society’s disgusting reaction, reinforcing the question of who really is sick. Suddenly, Cronenberg moves away from the film’s central conceit and instead decides to go with a cliché conspiracy story. Not only does the movie abandon its most interesting idea, the pace also slows down. Heading towards its conclusion, the film comes back to its initial premise, but the peculiar change is noticeable. It is almost as if Cronenberg decided to give the audience a breather between the more interesting first and final acts.
The name “Cronenberg” begs the question, “Just how gross is Antiviral?” Brandon’s father, David is a master of the horror genre and is known for his intense use of body horror. The younger Cronenberg doesn’t eschew his father’s trademark style completely, but does use it noticeably less. This is a movie more about psychological horror than visceral scares. That being said, Antiviral has some moments that are definitely not for the squeamish and parts of the movie will be especially tough on anyone with a fear of needles.
Antiviral takes a satirical look at a celebrity preoccupied society. While the movie does not have memorable characters, it does have a strong narrative. A person can practically see today’s world in the film. Brandon Cronenberg tells a topical story that every movie fan should take the time to watch.