Antiviral (Brandon Cronenberg, 2012)
The whole time I was watching Antiviral, the debut film from Brandon Cronenberg—if the last name sounds familiar, it’s because Brandon is the son of revered Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg—I was thoroughly enchanted with it. I kept having to remind myself that, yes, the movie does have some shortcomings, and they kept it from rating higher than it did. But the movie’s immense style made me want to gloss those shortcomings over. This is definitely a case of form over function, and in that, early Brandon is on the same track as early David was—and by “early” with David Cronenberg I’m talking about his earliest features, 1969’s Stereo and 1970’s Crimes of the Future, rather than the “early” stuff everyone’s seen (Shivers, Rabid, and The Brood, by the last of which Cronenberg had already, as far as I’m concerned, reached the heights of body-horror greatness he would plumb until 1999’s eXistenZ). When it comes right down to it, you’re going to want to say you knew him when.
Plot: Syd March (No Country for Old Men‘s Caleb Landry Jones) works for a near-future company that specializes in a new form of celebrity-worship; they harvest diseases from celebrities, culture them, and infect paying clients with the same strain of the same disease their heroes have. In any case, supermodel Hannah Geist (Dracula Untold‘s Sarah Gadon) is rumored to have a brand new disease that no one has ever seen before, and Syd’s company is desperate to get their hands on some of it. Syd is on the case—not only because he’s good at his job, but because, unknown to his company, he is obsessed with Hannah.
Brandon does things the same way Dad does—build the characters well enough so that no matter how weird the situations, things remain somewhat plausible. Where Brandon differs is that it was pretty rare to find a pre-Spider Cronenberg film that seemed in any way realistic. In the days of ubiquitous reality TV and websites devoted to celebrity gossip seeing millions of hits per day, Brandon’s near-future vision seems all too realistic. While there’s an obvious body-horror aspect to what goes on here, this is more a movie about atmosphere, tension, and paranoia than it is about gross-out special effects, and it benefits tremendously from this. An tiviral is a touch unformed and maybe could’ve used one more rewrite to tighten up the plot, but it’s stylish, creepy, and excels at portions of the filmmaker’s craft that many journeymen have never mastered; a very good debut from a promising filmmaker. Can’t wait to see what he does next. *** ½