‘Celebrities are not people, they are group hallucinations’
I had high hopes for Antiviral. My expectations were probably higher than they should have been for a debut film, regardless of who Brandon Cronenberg’s father is [David Cronenberg; Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly]. I’d stayed away from promotional material, bar one trailer last year, and was happy to pay Apple £3.69 to rent the movie after missing out on it at the cinema.
Antiviral comments on a society obsessed with celebrity. In an unknown location in the near future, a clinic has developed the means to copyright and distribute celebrity viruses. Fans can be infected with all manner of illnesses (flu, or in one case, herpes of the mouth) in the pursuit to feel closer to their idols. Syd, a respected member of this clinic – the Lucas Clinic – becomes embroiled in a murder conspiracy and has to find out answers before it is too late.
It sounds quite exciting, doesn’t it? Well, the first half hour it is fantastic. The protagonist, Syd, is set up well, despite playing his character in monotone. The production design sets the mood of the film; bright whites and harsh blacks drown out what little colour there is in the frame; even the Tropicana juice in Syd’s fridge looks a desaturated pastel orange tone. Thematically, I wouldn’t call it subtext, because it is blindingly obvious, but the commentary about celebrity obsession enables Cronenberg to pay homage to his father’s body horror tropes, and there are a number of scenes that are visceral to the point of difficult to watch. Additionally, the camerawork, post production elements (slow motion), the sound design and pacing of the story all enhance the mystery and leave you on the edge of your seat.
Then Act 2 hits, and in my opinion, the film loses each wheel slowly and catastrophically grinds to a halt. Despite Cronenberg’s execution of the theme being extremely original at beginning, by the midway point of the movie I had essentially lost interest. All the aspects of the film I enjoyed at the beginning began to get tiresome. This isn’t because I wanted to see gunfights, explosions, etc, but I found it difficult to root for any of the characters and their various plights. They were all immensely unlikeable, played in that ‘indie’ monotone, expressionless way, like they had all been lifted from Brick. I’m not sure if it was an acting style or director choice, but Syd’s “I’m really ill” face made him look constipated rather than like he had really bad flu. The sickly, high contrast visuals were difficult to stomach, there were a number of plot holes, and some character choices that were verging on the embarrassing for the screenwriter. The story plodded along up to the climax and denouement, which both offered massive disappointment, then it just finished. And yes, the credits had no music.
I think I may have to watch it again, but overall, I was disappointed. Disappointed I had such high hopes for the flick, disappointed that the idea offered so much at the beginning but completely lost its way, and disappointed that I am going to have to refer to him now as Brandon. It’s going to take a lot to earn back his Cronenberg, but judging by the first 30 mins of Antivrial, he has definitely got it in him.