"Long live the new flesh!" The son of body-horror king David Cronenberg, Brandon Cronenberg may seem, at first blush, like a clone born of a test tube with his directorial debut, Antiviral.
But the younger Cronenberg adds yet another dimension to the family legacy in a truly striking and unforgettable instant classic, with a keen aesthetic eye and the ability to coax intense yet subtle performances. I guess you could say it's Videodrome meets Gattaca meets Repo! The Genetic Opera… and yet, Antivirus has metastasized into its own, unique, beautiful and brutal beast.
Set in a futuristic world obsessed with and addicted to celebrity culture, so much so that stars' diseases and viruses are designer drugs sold for top dollar to the discerning fan, Antivirus follows Lucas Clinic employee and salesman Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones). March gets greedy, and begins to smuggle the clinic's patented products by harboring them in his own body.
Like a drug dealer, he cuts them and doles them out in cheaper versions through underworld pushers who grow the diseases in secret cell-gardens, and at first it's the highest of highs. But when he nicks an unknown illness directly from the veins of superstar beauty Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon), then finds out what she's got is fatal, it's a race against the clock, D.O.A. style, to find the antidote.
There are quite a few sociopolitical shades of crisp black and stark white to this truly infectious and addictive (I want to see it again) film. It's smart, darkly satirical, and truly horrific in not only the contemplative sense, but in its no-holds-barred blood-gushing horror. There's plenty of flesh (on and off the bone), the glorification of herpes sores, gore-saturated yak, syringe-stabbings, and… well, let's just say Antiviral will send the squeamish squirming in their seats. (But unlike the recently-reviewed Excision, Antiviral's gross-outs are germane to the story, presented cinematically with an auteur's acumen, and are more thought-provoking than gag-inducing.)
Jones is magnificent as a protagonist who's certainly not likeable, yet is mysteriously, compulsively, watchable. Supporting cast is top-notch, even Malcolm McDowell in a small but important role, is able to shed his recent stigma of cameo-overload and remind us he can, indeed, act (even if it is of the hammy Brit icon variety, ala Alec Guiness and Oliver Reed).
Antiviral won't be out until 2013, but some lucky horror fans in cosmopolitan areas can see it at festivals before it bows to the masses. Some of you can see Antiviral at the AFI Fest in L.A. next week, for free. Details here: AFI FEST.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson