Antiviral (2012)

Starring: Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Malcolm McDowell, Joe Pingue

Directed by: Brandon Cronenberg

Rating: 1 2 3

Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) delivers his sales pitch in Antiviral

Imagine a world in which celebrity is everything, in which every move made by the spuriously famous is amplified around the world through magazines, television and social media, every tear they cry, cold they catch, tantrum they throw a headline. Oh wait, we already live in that world. But what if it all went a little bit further? What if, instead of just reading about your favourite celebrity's bout of flu, you could actually catch if off them?

This is the premise behind Brandon Cronenberg's Antiviral, a starkly chilly dystopic vision of a future that could well be just around the corner.

Syd March (the brilliantly deadpan Caleb Landry Jones) works in the Lucas Clinic, a surgery that harvests celebrity viruses, copyrights them so they can't be transmitted casually, then injects them into fans in need of ‘biological communication' with their idols. For a price, of course.

Like the scenarios depicted in Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror series, the idea is horribly plausible, and technically and/or biologically perhaps already possible. But, along with recording microchips in our brains and robotic loved ones returning from the dead, I'd prefer to think that, as a society, we'd have more sense than to go there. But then again I thought Twitter would never catch on, so what do I know?

Celebrity meat - ew!

If you think David Cronenberg's films are cold, then let me tell you, you ain't seen nothing yet. Filmed almost entirely in an over-saturated palette of glaring, antiseptic whites, siren lipstick red and blood black, there is nothing restful or comforting or (for want of a better word) nice to be found in Syd's stark, lonely, ascetic world. Food is colourless and bland as the celebrities from whose cells it's made (I know – yuk!), a fun weekend consists of sweating indoors with a famous person's flu, and warmth, love and even everyday human pleasantries seems to have been swept aside by the all-encompassing plastic celebrity mania.

As you'd expect from the son of the creator of body horror, dysmorphic images feature highly, as Syd is literally sucked into the virus splicing and copyrighting process, deliberately infecting himself in order to sell the diseases on the black market (think Videodrome crossed with Tetsuo – ew!). Yet for me, Antiviral lacks the exuberance of Cronenberg Sr's earlier works (nobody's head explodes, sadly) or the finely dissected character studies of his later films. Syd is a great protagonist and he's very well portrayed by relative newcomer Landry, but we never get close to understanding him, and I found it hard to care about his fate as I did that of Jeff Goldblum's Seth Brundle, Jeremy Irons' Mantle twins or Viggo Mortensen's Tom Stall.

While I'm not at all sure I liked this film, I nevertheless have to admire it. It's sharp, unpleasant, satirical, gripping and it'll stick in your mind like, well, a disease. Whether or not you want that, is, like buying a dose of celebrity shingles, entirely up to you.

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