Susan Granger’s review of “Antiviral” (IFC Midnight)
Part satire/part horror movie, Brandon Cronenberg (son of Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg) makes his writing/directing debut with this weird, cringe-worthy sci-fi about our contemporary obsession with celebrity.
In a creepy, dystopian future world, Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works as a pharmacological salesman at the Lucas Clinic, where fans come to be injected with diseases harvested from cells belonging to the stars they adore, thus providing a “biological communion” between stars and fans. One gets the herpes simplex virus injected into his lip – at the exact place where his idol might have kissed him. But most people crave cells from Hannah Geist (Sandra Gadon), a blonde mega-star who resembles a much-younger Madonna, and serves as the Lucas Clinic’s spokesmodel.
While there’s sophisticated cell-copy protection for each star’s infection and Syd is monitored constantly, he manages to smuggle live viruses out of the lab in his own body in order to sell them to Arvid (Joe Pingue), an exploitive, human-flesh butcher in the grotesque black-market celebrity meat trade. And when Syd is assigned to collect a rare specimen from Hannah Geist, sleeping in her hotel suite, he’s unable to resist the temptation to inject her germs into his own bloodstream. But then he discovers that she has an exotic illness that’s potentially fatal, according her personal physician, Dr. Abendroth (Malcolm McDowell).
Venturing into dark, detached comedy, 32 year-old Brandon Cronenberg creates a sleek, white, hyper-sanitized environment, caught by Karim Hussain’s starkly clinical cinematography and amplified by Syd’s subsequent episodes of hallucinatory delirium. Androgynous, lanky Caleb Landry Jones, who played Banshee in “X-Men: First Class,” epitomizes the nightmarish solemnity of the twisted, unsettling concept of celebrity worship.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Antiviral” is a sick, stomach-churning 6 – and the many distastefully visceral syringe scenes are definitely not for the squeamish.