Certain topics, like our unabashed love of celebrities, seem too extreme for satire.
Enter Brandon Cronenberg, son of famed director David Cronenberg, who proves that’s hardly the case with Antiviral. The new science fiction film takes our obsession with the rich and famous and pushes it into a realm as twisted as anything in Papa Cronenberg’s canon.
What’s missing is a soul, the sense that all the slick social commentary is coming from a place that can process decency as well as societal decay.
Syd March (Caleb Jones, X-Men: First Class) works at a clinic where celebrity diseases and infections are peddled to eager consumers. Can’t get enough of sizzling starlet Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon)? Well, why not share the very same infection she recently contracted?
Syd isn’t content making his client’s warped dreams a reality. He’s also stealing from his own firm, the details of which spin Antiviral into a number of dark and conspiratorial directions.
Antiviral appears set in the near future given the technology on display, but it’s essentially a commentary on our vapid, US Weekly age. Young Cronenberg maximizes the film’s sickening aura with sterile set design. Most spaces are bathed in white, but viewers will feel unclean all the same as Syd’s work brings him closer to the objects of all our affections. Watching diners cut into meat culled from the cells of celebrities gives the film a queasy patina that cannot be shaken.
Some sequences blister with black humor, like news reports tracking a female celebrities anal woes. At a certain point, though, the meme has been hammered home sufficiently. That leaves us with Syd, a pasty-faced soul we never really get to know on a personal level. That sense of distance may be part of the film’s master plan, but once the surgical skewering of celebrities washes over us we need something else to mull over.
Antiviral is smarter than most modern sci-fi tales, and Cronenberg’s sense for disquieting imagery will serve him well–even if it constantly reminds us of his own celebrity bloodlines. He might want to revisit some of his father’s best films to learn what a true auteur can bring to a sordid story like Antiviral.