BFI London Film Festival 2012 – ‘Antiviral’, a passingly potent syringe of contemporary criticism on the cult of celebrity

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Written by Brandon Cronenberg

Directed by Brandon Cronenberg

USA, 2012

It can’t be easy growing up in the shadow of your critically lauded father, especially if you harbour the same artistic ambitions to express yourself through an identical communicative medium, telling tales that can either frighten and terrify, to provoke glee or grins, a striving for connections with an audience and make a statement on our current society and its perceived cultural malaise. In his debut film Brandon Cronenberg, son of the imperious David who has cornered the sobriquet as the King of Body Horror has decided to lurch through the dreamscapes of his fathers long and illustrious career with Antiviral, a passingly potent syringe of contemporary criticism on the cult of celebrity, more fan film tribute than horrific homage but not without its own efficient commentary on a society plagued with surface versus depth, with a infectious corporatism that which shows a cool promise for things to come if he can wriggle out of the old mans lurking, oozing silhouette.

Pallid, creepy Syd March (a diseased Caleb Landry Jones) works as a salesman for the iniquitous Lucas corporation who specialise in a very particular, high-end biological product – the pathogens and bacteria that have infected the worlds leading celebrities with various illnesses and ailments during their forensically observed careers. Ranging from STD’s to flu viruses these cells are donated by the elite for financial gain, the poisonous bacteria harvested and sold through a medical proxy to star obbsessed proles in order to feed their vain efforts in becoming closer to their pedestal occupying idols, to live through their real life ailments in a twisted, symbiotic near future allegory. March is one of the besotted and is secretly smuggling out the most valuable mutagens to the black market, addicted to the same narcotics as his somnambulist clientele he makes a potentially fatal mistake after absorbing the disease of one of the worlds most celebrated figurines Hannah Geist, when she dies of her ailment he is plunged into a frantic race against time to secure an antidote whilst competing factions are also desperate to secure his tissue in order to achieve the ultimate expression of worshipful idolisation.

Well, when I say desperate race against time I’m not being entirely accurate as this film is a languidly paced, coolly detached mood piece, an antispectic vision of a world gone awry, a sour vision of superficiality in an undentified, vaccum frozen near future. Cronenberg Jr. pushes his ideas around his cinematic petri dish with all the passion of a  distant minded plurocrat, never really taking any convincing satirical position, it lacks any surgical focus or a defined hypothosis, and as such it will find problems infecting an audience beyond his fathers already indoctrinated enthusiasts. Some of the ideas gain traction and are grotesquely pungent, amongst them the idea of foodstuffs grown from cells of the great & good which the afflicted gobble down in a uncomfortable glee, also Malcolm McDowall has a memorable part as Geist’s doctor who spends his lucrative retainers on skin grafts culled from the disembodied media simulacras, but it’s all just a little too sterile, a twitch too alienating to abjure any real discomforting dread. The enroaching march of the corporate superstate indoctrinating itself further into the physical and mental spaces of the bourgeois has a definite charge, but the lack of narrative trajectory or crucially any empathic centre – at least in The Fly, Dead Ringers or Videodrome we knew who to identify with as much as that was itchingly uncomfortable – renders the experiment as fatally flawed, but a mildly promising debut nevertheless with some keen control in the fields of visual detachment and homunculus hollowed performances. Not a total fiasco then, and one hopes that Cronenberg 2.0 can branch out with a new generation of ideas and ideology with a more original sequel.

John McEntee

The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs Oct. 10th  – 21st.  Learn more about Antiviral.

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