Written and directed by first-time feature director Brandon Cronenberg, Antiviral is an unusual look at mankind’s obsession with both celebrity and germs in a not-too-distant future where the combination of both becomes the world’s most highly sought after commodities.
Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) has an unusual job. He works as a salesman for the Lucas Clinic, a company that specializes in the world’s most bizarre fetish. Lucas harvests diseases from celebrities and injects a non-contagious version of them into paying clients who wish to feel closer to the people they see on television and in magazines.
Syd’s problem starts with his personal use of the viruses and his willingness to sell them on the black market to a local butcher (Joe Pingue). After extracting the latest illness from the firm’s biggest celebrity (Sarah Gadon), Syd decides to sample it before turning it over to the lab. However soon he discovers the celebrity has died of the mysterious illness, and he has started to exhibit the same symptoms.
As a statement about frenzied fans or celebrities willingness to offer up any piece of them for a profit, Antiviral isn’t subtle but it is memorable. From the butcher selling stem cell steaks grown from a celebrity’s tissue to the willingness of someone to purposefully get sick to share the experience with their idol, Cronenberg delivers a fairly strong examination of obsession.
Although the film takes a few different twists and turns involving the truth about the virus and the celebrity’s death, at the heart Antiviral is a character study of a fairly unlikable leading character who is sick well before he injects himself with the celebrity’s illness. As his body begins to break down and he begins hallucinating, Syd turns to his black market contacts and employers only to be treated like yet another commodity to be sold and profited from.
Although Cronenberg does a fine job in crafting a bizarre tale, the film falters at times by relying on being weird without necessarily being all that interesting. Even after cutting six minutes, Antiviral still has a number of dead spots. In terms of creep factor the film does succeed, but Antiviral is never scary or even thrilling as the audience is never asked to invest any emotion in Syd or his situation.
Antiviral is a flawed first film from writer/director Brandon Cronenberg that shows flashes of talent from the young filmmaker. Cronenberg gets points for style and originality, as well as getting the best out of his actors, but in the end Antiviral is an emotionally empty experience I was able to respect on an intellectual level but not an emotional one.