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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sean Kelly

TIFF12: My Thoughts on Antiviral

I am quite a big fan of David Cronenberg, so I was definitely interested when it was announced that his son Brandon was going to screen this year at TIFF.  Based on what I've heard from the film's debut at Cannes, the apple has not fallen far from the tree and the film hearkens back to David Cronenberg's old body horror work.  However, the question remained about whether Brandon Cronenberg was able to create his own voice with this film.


Antiviral focuses on Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), who is a technician at The Lucas Clinic, which injects celebrity infections into the most hardcore of fans.  The diseases within the Lucas Clinic are protected with a high-tech copy protection that prevents them from being used outside the clinic.  However, Syd is secretly working with a disease piracy group to unlock the diseases and sell them on the black market.

The most popular star at The Lucas Clinic is Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon).  When she suddenly becomes sick with a new ailment, Syd is called on to take a sample.  Being an obsessed Geist fan himself, Syd injects himself with the sample.  However, when Geist unexpectedly dies from her sickness, Syd races to find out what the disease was (and how to cure it) before he meets the same fate.

Perhaps because of Brandon Cronenberg’s father, Antiviral has been frequently described as being a horror film.  While there are definitely many horror elements in the film, especially towards the end, I would have to say that this film is much more of a science fiction story, especially through its depiction of a world that is entirely obsessed with celebrities.  In addition, the locations in the film all have bright white walls, which really help to give them film a very futuristic feel.

While I am sure Brandon Cronenberg was trying to create his own voice with Antiviral, there are still elements reminiscent of his father’s early body horror work.  The bulk of Sarah Gadon’s performance is shown via video recordings ala Deborah Harry in Videodrome.  Videodrome also seems referenced at other points within the film, most notably in an inexplicable melding of man and machine during one of the film’s sequences.

While I would think that this was a decent debut for Brandon Cronenberg, it is still a somewhat uneven film.  While the film does create an interesting world with some intriguing ideas, it seems to have a difficult time wrapping up the story.  The plot of the film moves at a somewhat slow pace and it takes a while before anything significant happens.  I would say that the best part of Antiviral comes in the form of Malcom McDowell, who makes an extended cameo within the film.  There is just something about McDowell’s screen presence that makes him stand out among the more lesser known actors of the film.

Brandon Cronenberg had a lot of baggage of overcome with Antiviral.  While, he was probably not entirely successful at overcoming it, he still managed to create a unique voice for himself, which I hope will be further developed in his future efforts.

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Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described ├╝ber-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).