Remember - "fan" is short for "fanatic"

November 30, 2016

Antiviral is the first feature length movie from Brandon Cronenberg, and it has to be said it's exactly the kind of thing you might expect from a Cronenberg horror film: excellent, and creepy.

 

Brandon probably hates to read that kind of thing, but his dad is David Cronenberg, and I guess he's going to have to get used to it.

 

Antiviral is, I suppose, a science fiction movie, but of a kind we are seeing a lot of recently - set today, with the future in the form of some new medical technology forming the fiction part. Aside from this, the characters inhabit the same world we do - in particular, the world of fetishised celebrity.

 

Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), the central character, works in a faux medical centre that we all see around - like cosmetic surgeries, medicalised beauty salons and so on - except his sells infections that have been harvested from celebrities, so that fans can suffer the same infections and feel closer to the object of their adoration. In deciding to get into a sideline business of his own for profit, he runs afoul of another, much darker business and things get, well, did I mention Cronenberg?

 

There are fantastic asides in this movie that are at once chilling and seemingly everyday. Celebrity cell cultures are grown into meat and sold at a specialty butcher as steaks; celebrities are simulated as responsive CGI figures that you can torture at will - or are they really the celebrities being filmed while tortured? These are presented almost as asides, and owes something to recent science fiction - movies such as Blade Runner or books like Neuromancer.

 

By posing more questions that he ever intends to answer, Brandon Cronenberg has his own definite style in raising the discomfort level in almost every scene. The initial commentary by Syd's employer, superficially the most cynical character in the film, provides a sobering, almost sensible counterpoint to what we see the main characters doing.

 

As we follow Syd, it is increasingly less clear whether he is a true fan, or just a someone trying to make some cash on the side, or whether he has his own plan. it doesn't help that virtually every character he meets, including the doctor played by one of my personal favourites, Malcolm MacDowell, seems either darkly twisted, criminal, or both. There are many possibilities, and none of them seem good. Only in the last scene do we get the definitive insight into Syd's mind, and in that sense, into the culture of celebrity. Few will enjoy it.

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