Antiviral – Brandon Cronenberg – 2012

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Brandon Cronenberg’s first feature film, Antiviral, is a stunner. Set in the very near future where celebrity obsession has become paralyzing infection of the populace, a salesman in a virus clinic sees beyond the cloud of asphyxiating distraction and, by virtue of his own addictions and through chance of fate, is drawn into a complex mystery, that only he can solve.

That being said, we’ll never get to meet Hannah Geist. Because Hannah Geist died. But we could meet our Hannah. I have a friend who once said he never wanted to meet his heroes because it would humanize them in his mind. That’s dead on. Once met in person, these glamorous people become humanized and small. This is key in keeping in perspective the danger celebrity obsession can become.

In Antiviral, all news channels seem to be E! television, an invasive look into the lives of celebrities. It is never explained why these people are famous, but it is surely to allow them to act as proxies of any audience favorites.  The lengths these people go to, be closer to these celebrities includes injecting themselves with viruses in an act of biological communion. And the man gets paid off of all of that.

Syd works in one of these virus clinics and sells the sauce to fans, giving them whatever sickness they desire, from whichever superstar they can afford. But Syd is clever and makes money on the side selling stuff from the factory to a steak dealer. Furthermore Syd is not immune to the societal plague, and he constantly injects himself with a variety of sicknesses.

The film works as a drug abuse parable, a cautionary tale about mass obsession, a mystery, and a philosophical gauntlet. Every audience member will come down on the film a little differently and Antiviral acts as carefully calibrated barometer, reflecting shallow obsessions back on the viewer.  Whether you read trashy supermarket magazines or work as a paparazzi most people in our media saturated culture will recognize this future as fairly prescient.

Beyond those casual fans, the film comments on that old Cronenbergian horse, the flesh. What newer transformation of the flesh than to have yourself injected with a virus. Antiviral, equates these obsessions with addiction, and as each plot point turns, these themes are blended and blurred for Syd. Even when you think you have every turn and motivation figured out, Cronenberg keeps you guessing until the very end.

The design and sound of this film are engrossing. His use of white as negative space, contrasted with only giant photos of the famous, create an angelic atmosphere, as if in the clinic one could buy heaven with enough money. As the film progresses, we shift to blues and blacks, only to find ourselves in the white of the clinic again by the end. These color shifts are smooth and compliment the story, as Syd’s morality shifts again and again. The score is droney and dark, in the best possible way. It looms seamlessly over uncomfortable imagery a slithering force neither condemning nor praising the actions on screen but providing intensity to the text.

I enjoyed this film immensely and hope to see a new trend of body-horror oriented filmmakers come out of this amazingly entertaining whirlpool of a film. I cannot wait to see the next film from Brandon Cronenberg.

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