Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral has been getting a lot of mixed buzz from movie writers over the last few months. I heard nothing about the plot, thank God, but the general feeling was that Cronenberg made a movie in his father’s image and did alright.
Most of the more positive and more negative reactions started from that point, so I went in expecting to find myself somewhere in the middle. Well, I ended up not being in the middle. In fact, I left the theater really, really digging on the film and in the hours since the film has grown even better as I chew on it a bit.
On the surface, Cronenberg is carrying on the tradition of New Flesh began by his father, but he’s also not just aping a style. Love it or hate it, you can’t deny this film has something on its mind. The film is a blatant commentary on pop culture that’s more in line with They Live-era John Carpenter than his father’s output.
Caleb Landry Jones plays Syd, the ultra pale and kind of creepy used disease salesman. You see, in this world (which sadly isn’t too far off from our own) people are so obsessed with celebrity that there’s a huge market for their diseases. Colds, flus and even STDs are in demand as long as they’re from famous people.
And the definition of famous in this world is slightly skewed into the ridiculous, but again… scarily recognizable. Being famous for being famous is the norm and when you reach that level you can sell your cold virus to a firm that will copyright it, crack and it and rewrite it so it is non-contagious, therefore protecting the company’s investment.
When you add in an element of corporate espionage things get really strange. If you want to make some money on the side you gotta infect yourself with these viruses and have a bootleg or stolen version of the special machine that can crack and rewrite the virus’ code so it can be duplicated.
That’s precisely what Syd does and naturally that opens an oddly fleshy door down an even creepier rabbit hole as a particular virus he’s carrying becomes one of the most valuable things on the market… it also happens to be slowly killing him.
Jones gives a great performance. In fact, I’d go so far as to compare the way he commits to the character with the way Joaquin Phoenix inhabits Freddie Quill. There are moments where my back starts hurting in sympathy for his hunched over posture.
Sarah Gadon is great in what could have been a role that only needed a pretty face. She’s the Paris Hilton celebrity type and spends most of the movie as just an image of obsession. There’s some real talent behind the beauty here. When her character does have the chance to be more than the image of celebrity she brings such a vulnerability to the role that you can’t help but feel for her in a way I didn’t expect.
Also of note is Malcolm McDowell. The man is becoming this generation’s Christopher Walken; a working actor who will appear in anything if you meet his daily asking price. As a result he’s in a lot of shitty movies and when he appears in indies like this one it’s usually only a bit part, shot in and out in a few days. But I’ll give the man this, he never phones it in. Same with Walken. Walken always gave each role 110%, no matter how shitty the movie is.
McDowell plays a doctor and has a couple of important speeches… and yes, you can tell he only worked a few days on the movie, but at least Cronenberg brought him in to be a crucial character that hammers home some of the bigger ideas the movie is wrestling with.
The only negative thing I have to say about the film is that it hits a wall about 2/3rds of the way through the movie and slows to a crawl for about 10 minutes. However, that crawl ends with one of the more icky pieces of violence in the movie and leads to a finale that is pretty damn gross and fantastic.
So, count me pleasantly surprised on this one. It’s not a pale imitation of the work of his father, nor is it a sloppy first film that doesn’t know what it wants to say.
Make sure to follow me on Twitter to get my live reactions as I dive headfirst into Fantastic Fest!