Nepotism is the birthright to inherit not just the potential talent of the parent but their line of work too. With Brandon Cronenberg, he has inherited not just David Cronenberg’s desire to expose the world to new horrors but also to do it slowly, and with difficulty in capturing funding. Between Antiviral and Possessor was a gap of eight years. Who knows what that was for, but it may have been time Brandon Cronenberg needed to return to the drawing board, to flesh ideas out before he dedicates himself to capturing them. His antagonism toward the celebrity star fetish and the ghoulish nature of the tabloid obsession, the equivalent for those outside of gushing over magazines catching up on the latest glamour gossip being the drones of Royal Family fans who critique and clamour for every moment of their lives. Cronenberg hopes to delve into that, to dictate a newfound hatred for it and deploys a feature looking to highlight the danger of living that way.
He does well with Antiviral, showcasing that obsessive culture at its very extremes allows for the feature to exhume the horrific ideas and strange fascinations that border on personality disorders. How much of a fan must one be to wish for the illnesses, ailments and stresses of the celebrities they cling to? Antiviral does not attempt to answer that but certainly tries to figure out what would possess that same level of intensity to follow the lives of those who will never meet the celebrities they imitate, facilitate and follow. That much is obviously freakish and Cronenberg never forgets that as he applies limp body horror shock value to the tabloid-loving, celebrity infused lifestyle.
Naturally, the problem with injecting oneself with the injuries and infections that plague celebrities, beyond that not being a viable business model, is the fixation on sickness. Caleb Landry Jones’ leading performance as Syd March has the unfortunate issue of being a carbon copy styling of Robert Pattinson in Cosmopolis from father Cronenberg’s workshop of inane horrors. White walls, devilled thoughts and a spiral out of control for a sickeningly defunct man. Jones’ performance is solid it is a shame Cronenberg tries too hard with appalling symmetrical tones and the big visions he hopes it can produce. Patchwork for the problems of the plot, more than anything else. At least it is an interesting premise, performed well despite the obvious comfort found in the science fiction foibles Cronenberg Senior managed to avoid.
Thankful audiences may be for the sinister nature that plagues Antiviral, it is patchy and bothered by the shadow that looms over it. Intensity, bloodied characteristics and a psychosis that breaks down, a reliance on tender ghouls and extreme closeups mark a film that showcases a director both finding his footing and accelerating in spots that some are still carving out. Antiviral manages an emotive core that lacks in Cronenberg’s work on Possessor, but what Possessor lacked in emotion it made up for in clarity. Antiviral doesn’t have that; it switches between strange imagery and wild plot pointers of assassination attempts and grim ideations that never quite click together. Still, it is better to be bold and fail than to not bother and die trying. Aspects of Michael Bay’s The Island, the ethical considerations within are briefly deliberated and enjoyably so.