Those agonizing for David Cronenberg’s return to his blood-and-guts bodily horror may find modest consolation in his son’s debut effort, Antiviral. A picture spiraling around one central concept, Antiviral combines aspects physical horror with grander philosophical statements found in some of his more recent work. While conceptually it is a film baring David Cronenberg’s flair, Brandon Cronenberg’s touches injects the picture with sterilely obvious imagery. The sharp distinctions in contrast unfortunately undercut many of Cronenberg’s efforts, resulting in a conceptually rich but visually bankrupt film.
In a world drowning in celebrity culture, Lucas Industries affords people the opportunity to obtain the virus of their celebrity obsessions. Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), an employee who sells these diseases to customer, also infects himself with celebrity strains in an effort to sell to a black market conspirator. After a series of infections, March finds himself in a precarious situation as the original celebrity carrier is reported dead after a recent infection, thereupon making March’s viral disease one worth extracting and selling off.
Cronenberg essentially adds layer after layer to the film’s central premise as a method of spiraling the audience in and out of the narrative space. With its sterile environments, Antiviral is actively keeping its audiences away, perpetually keeping you at a distant whereupon your observations of this world feel largely superficial. This hinders many of the picture’s statements on the cult of celebrity – much of the danger that the film attempts to provoke registers as little more than ridiculous. While I have no aversions toward digital filmmaking, the overt cleanliness of the picture may operate well for the picture’s rather sordid material, but does it no favors looking for additional depth. So much of the film operates under two distinct shades, one of the brightest white and the other of the sharpest red. Visually appealing at first, the film repeats the contrast to a nauseating degree.
Brandon Cronenberg is capable of composing and arranging his compositions in an appealing way, but perhaps overstays his welcome, therein prompting my initial distaste for Antiviral. The rigid symmetry is exceptional, but too mechanical. Perhaps unfair, but I was constantly reminded of the beautiful formalism of David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis and wanting to see some of that in Antiviral. While I found the picture difficult to embrace, Antiviral undoubtedly possesses a level of refinement worth looking into, but it was simply a film that I could never invest myself in to ever take too seriously.