Antiviral (2012)

Antiviral is a nasty, bleak, visually arresting film where thriller meets body-horror to startlingly original effect. Directed by Brandon Cronenberg, his Father’s influence is immediately obvious and permeates the entire film, while never feeling derivative.

In an alternate reality, the heights of celebrity obsession have hit a peak. Clients of the Lucas Clinic, and other organisations like them, can pay to be infected with viruses and diseases that have come straight from the people they admire the most. This remarkably cynical, but sadly not too far-fetched gimmick, provides the basis of Antiviral and asks its viewers some deeply unsettling questions.

Our protagnist Syd, an employee of the Lucas Clinic is an enigma. Played by the remarkably magnetic Caleb Landry Jones, Syd seemingly sits in judgement of the people he supplies celebrity diseases to, whilst also infecting himself with the very same diseases in order to smuggle them out, manipulate them and sell them on the black market to make some cash on the side. It’s all going fairly swimmingly until he infects himself with a disease straight from beautiful actress Hannah Geist, who then promptly ups and dies from it. From there on in Syd faces a grim race against time to prevent suffering the same fate.

The two things that struck me most about Antiviral are the sets and the cast. The actors involved are all wonderful, managing to maintain an air of realism within a world of what is very close to being science fiction. Landry-Jones is the obvious standout; eschewing any kind of vanity to completely submerge himself in the role and allow himself to be filmed in some tremendously unflattering situations with astoundingly memorable results. Malcolm McDowell is great in a small role too, and it’s wonderful to see, particularly on the back of such a run of terrible recent cameos and thankless roles in remakes. There’s hope for his career yet.

The sets are practically a character in themselves. They run the gamut of austere, claustrophobic, clinical, stark, dank and minimal, and they always provide the perfect backdrop for the slowburn action unfolding on screen. And speaking of the action; what there is will require most viewers to be in posession of a fairly strong stomach. Antiviral isn’t an overly gory film but what blood there is comes from a place that, given the talent behind the project, can only really be described as ‘Cronenbergian’. There are lots of close-up shots of needles penetrating skin (all of which were done for real), a cotton bud being shoved up a nasal cavity, scenes of people eating disgustingly grey ‘steaks’ grown from celebrity muscle cells, and more. All of which is utterly nauseating and simultaneously, a breath of fresh air in the wake of the metaphorical buckets of CGI blood that normally populate modern horror.

Antiviral is horrid. It’s a film that will make your skin crawl and give you nightmares. It’s original, compelling, brilliantly acted and, while never quite reaching the promise of the crescendo of tension it builds, is very, very satisyfing. One thing’s for sure; when David Cronenberg decides to hang up his directing hat, Brandon will almost certainly, ably continue the legacy of weird, and personally, I think that’s an exciting prospect.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★½☆

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