When most people discuss a director with the pedigree of Brandon Cronenberg, it’s hard not to start that conversation with mentioning the legendary lineage he comes from. Son to iconic body horror maestro David Cronenberg, the director has, justifiably given his father’s status in film history, been often compared to his very much still vital directing predecessor.
And it doesn’t help that his debut film, Antiviral, seems ripped directly out of the filmography of his father. However, if there is one thing that this debut film (now available on DVD and Blu-ray via IFC Films) proves, it is that he may be the son of a directing icon, but he himself appears to be an assured young cinematic voice all his own.
Again, very much influenced by the body horror/social commentary pictures of his father (think of this film as Videodrome, but instead looking at celebrity worship), Antiviral follows the story of Syd March, a worker at a local clinic that sells diseases carried by celebrities. The customers? Men and women who, like the tabloid readers and gossip rag purchasers of today, take every word uttered by these “celebrities” as gospel. Taking today’s celebrity-focused culture to its logical extreme, Antiviral is both a treatise on this very culture, while also being a genuinely thrilling and visually inspired bit of conspiracy-laden body horror that would rightly leave David Cronenberg applauding.
Enough David Cronenberg talk, however, as the film should also leave cinephiles at complete and utter attention, for the rise of a new voice in horror cinema.
Brandon Cronenberg breakthrough here, proving that while he may have gotten a tip or two from his father, he himself is completely comfortable in his own cinematic skin. Icy cold, brutally clinical in its use of blood, gore and overall violence and absolutely blunt in Cronenberg’s use of a static camera, the film and its director pull no punches. Visually as unsubtle as the film itself ultimately is (not a slight, but actually quite the opposite as it is very much a trait found within some of his father’s best motion pictures) Cronenberg and his photographer Karim Hussain (who also shot Antiviral’s stylistic opposite Hobo With A Shotgun) team to craft a film that is both brazenly stylish while also being the cinematic version of a doctor’s office in your worst nightmare. Sterile in all the right, washed out ways, Cronenberg’s film makes the cringe-worthy moments utterly visceral, and even the moments where the camera does hop off the tripod become something broodingly isolating. It’s truly a visual experience to behold.
The film will also hopefully turn star Caleb Landry Jones into an arthouse regular, as he’s perfectly cast in this picture. Admittedly an odd looking thespian, he’s best known for his underrated turn as probably the third best actor in the okay-but-not-great X-Men: First Class, but this turns him into an absolute must-watch talent. I point out the odd features of Jones because, oddly enough, his reptilian aesthetic really amps up the film’s overall sense of dread, Jones turning into something very much akin to say, James Woods in the aforementioned Videodrome. An actor with a surefire legendary career as a character actor in front of him, he gives this film a sense of raw brutality that the film so richly needs due to its muted, cold aesthetic. He’s opposite Sarah Gadon who is equally as perfectly cast, and plays one of the few celebrities in the film, the main A-lister whose illness gets the plot moving, a woman by the name of Hannah Geist. She’s the epitome of beauty, and yet her existence in this story adds such depth to a narrative that would otherwise rely solely on caricatures to get its point across.
With a script also from Cronenberg, the film won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Admittedly cold and isolating, the film, again, doesn’t shy away from the grotesque, making the pulling of punches not really a part of this film’s intentions. However, if one gives itself over to this dystopian future, this future where any semblance of rational has since been killed off, this future where people get injected with diseases to feel closer to their favorite A-listers, it’ll be as thrilling a debut feature as you’ll see all year.
The Blu-ray is solid, with a transfer that really makes this great photography pop off the screen. There’s also a trailer, some behind the scenes footage, a few deleted scenes, a making of documentary, and even an insightful and entertaining commentary with both director Brandon Cronenberg as well as cinematographer Karim Hussain. Hopefully all of this will be enough to get one or two of you to give this brooding social commentary/horror picture a real shot.
(For more convincing, read Catherine’s review of the film HERE)