Written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg
When looking at horror films, there’s something about Canadian horror that helps it stand out and apart from its American counterpart. While most of the blockbusters out today depend on cheap thrills and scares alone, Canadian horror aims to make you think while trying to scare the pants off you. Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral (2012) is one such film that doesn’t try to scare you by having monsters jump out at you at every turn, but lets the audience’s imagination do all the work.
The film is set in a world where celebrity obsession is at an all time high. Stars are more than pop-culture icons, but gods. Entertainment news covers everything from their personal lives to their medical history, and people will pay and do just about anything to be closer to their idols. And what better way to get close and personal with your celebrity icon than sharing their disease?
In this not too distant future, people can pay to be infected with strains carried by celebrities with everything from the common cold to herpes simplex. Stars can sell their diseases to labs who then clone it and sell it, bringing the every-man closer to their pop-culture icons. Antiviral follows the journey of Syd March, played by the talented Caleb Landry Jones, and his work in the celebrity disease industry. His life takes an unexpected, and deadly turn, when he’s infected with icon Hannah Geist’s (played by Sarah Gadon) mysterious illness.
The movie wows audiences and captures their attention despite the notable fast paced action and bloodshed one normally seems in a horror film. The film almost mimics the course of a disease itself, with the slow onset of paranoia and fear, temperatures rising dangerously high towards the middle, with everything coming to a head by the end and leaving audiences wondering if the protagonist will ever recover from his ordeal or be doomed to relapse.
The aesthetic that Antiviral takes on is an oddly, and uncomfortably, clinical one. The young Cronenberg’s choice to have Jones’ character as whitewashed as the walls, and the harsh contrast of blacks, reds, and whites makes this disease riddled world more believable. Even when Syd is taken out of the lab, audiences are still made to feel like he’s under a microscope.
What perhaps is most striking about this film is how Cronenberg escalates the idea that in this pop-culture obsessed society, celebrities don’t belong to themselves but to the public. Their bodies, their thoughts, their private moments are all commodities for public consumption. Celebrity itself has been turned into a disease that inflicts the public, and for which there is no known cure. It leaves viewers paranoid, contemplative, and worried about the future of our Hollywood-centric society.
If you’re looking for a good scare that will leave you on edge for weeks and make you want to move a thousand miles away from society, but don’t want to sit through an hour and a half of monsters jumping out at you, then make sure to watch Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral.