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Fantastic Fest 2012: Capone wants to spread the word about Brandon Cronenberg's ambitious and provocative ANTIVIRAL like a disease!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Austin for Fantastic Fest 2012.

One of the more ambitious feature film debuts I've seen in quite some time is ANTIVIRAL, the brainchild of writer-director Brandon Cronenberg, son of David but clearly a talent in his own right, for reasons that are both similar and dissimilar to his father. Both men seem obsessed with perversions of the flesh, both in terms science and sexuality. But Brandon's take on the future of celebrity worship goes into areas that are borderline genius.

The focal point of ANTIVIRAL is Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones, who played Banshee in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS), who works for a company in the apparently near future that will literally sell you a disease (everything from a cold to STDs to god knows what else) that was harvested legally from ailing celebrities to people who just want to be a little closer to their favorite stars. We see from news broadcasts in the background of many scenes that the tools of the paparazzi have advanced. Infrared cameras can now show us what lies beneath the clothes. Celebrities makes a mint selling skin samples that can be regenerated and sold as patches that people can wear on their arms, or fatty tissues can be grown to make a steak-like substance sold in butcher shops. Even through the practice appears to be commonplace, Syd still wonders how this isn't cannibalism.

In one early scene, Syd sells a strand of herpes from one of the biggest stars on the planet, Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon, scene primarily in billboards and commercials for most of the film), to an obsessed fan, played by Douglas Smith. Syd is a master salesman, but it's the look on Smith's face as Syd talks him into getting the injection in his mouth because that's where Hannah would have given it to him had she actually kissed him is priceless.

Syd is also something of a criminal. He injects many of these celebrity viruses into himself, allows them to make him sick, then sells his blood to a black market dealer. One of the strangest aspect to ANTIVIRAL is that Jones spends about 75 percent of the movie in a perpetual state of illness. He's hunched over at various angles or just flat out on his back going through whatever disease of the week he might be transporting, and he plays sick so convincingly, you'd be afraid to go near the actor if you ever ran into him.

One day Syd is called upon to do something he's never done before--personally extract a sickly Hannah Geist for a new virus strand that will be worth a fortune for his company. The encounter is a little underwhelming (she has a sleep mask on and doesn't even wake up when he takes her blood), but as soon as he's done, he gives himself a small bit of her blood, knowing he'll make enough money from the black-market sale to retire. But not long after the extraction, Hannah dies and suddenly Syd's life and future don't look so good as he races to find a cure for whatever is ailing him. But nothing is quite that simple, as he finds out while trying to figure out exactly what killed the superstar, who is being mourned like a world leader.

Cronenberg's visual palette is exceptional, especialy in the scenes where Syd is especially sick to the point where he's delusional or having fever dreams about his own body being warped by an outside force. But I also love the way that the corporation that sells these viruses is shown as cold and soul draining. Some things haven't changed in the future.

In a not-so-strange way, ANTIVIRAL is also a love story between Syd and Hannah, even though they share just a little screen time together. Does he see herself as her protector, or is her just any fan (as one person asks him)? There's no getting around the fact that the way he lovingly inserts the needle into her arm to draw blood (thanks for the close up of that and the dozen or so other injection closeups throughout the film, Mr. Cronenberg) is presented in true needle-porn fashion. ANTIVIRAL is the work of a budding visionary, whose best work, I expect, is yet to come. But for the time being, his current work is full of inventive and effective artistry.

-- Steve Prokopy
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