Cinema Review: Antiviral Ian White January 23, 2013 Movie Reviews 1975 I’ve got bad news for all you over-hyped, fanatically-adored celebrities who are always whining about how tough fame is and how the world only wants a piece of you. According to Brandon Cronenberg’s fascinating debut feature ‘Antiviral’ – you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. But (here’s some good news, celebrities) play your genes right and Cronenberg also suggests you could make something out of the deal. It’s the frighteningly near feature. Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works in a clinic where the fan obsession to get personal with their favourite star has been taken to a squirm-inducing extreme. Now Syd and his co-workers can inject you with a virus harvested from your celebrity crush and right now most of Syd’s customers wants a piece of the luminous Hannah Geist – in the case of today’s first customer, her herpes virus – and demand is so heavy that Syd even supplies the black market with celebrity body fluid, smuggling the stolen cells out of the clinic by injecting them into his own body. Naturally, there’s a price to pay for such a dramatic form of virus couriering and Syd’s immune system has already taken quite a battering. But when Syd unknowingly infects himself with the mysterious disease that eventually kills Hannah Geist, he not only has a shockingly limited amount of time to find out what destroyed her before he shares Hannah’s nastily blood-spewing demise, but he also becomes a barely-moving target for (among others) a rival clinic, rabid Hannah fans, and some very nasty black marketeers who would like the deadly cargo for themselves. Brandon Cronenberg has a problem. Unlike Duncan Jones (aka Zowie Bowie) his moniker is so distinctive, and so synonymous with a kind of horror movie making excellence we rarely see today (especially since his father, David Cronenberg, has detoured into less visceral subject matter), that his debut feature would either have to be very very good or a crushing disappointment that would make us nostalgic for the days of ‘Shivers’ and ‘Videodrome’. Well, it’s reassuringly obvious from the very first moments of ‘Antiviral’ that a new bodyshock Cronenberg is back in town and, although ‘Antiviral’ evokes and distils many ideas from his father’s own work, it’s equally obvious that Brandon Cronenberg is an ambitious and hugely talented film maker in his own right. ‘Antiviral’ looks gorgeous, a future of lush, overblown whites and blacks (the clinic) giving way to the dark and diseased grime and neon of the outside world. Every shot is a painting, a highly stylised composition with (thankfully) very little hand-held camerawork to disrupt the measured, sterile flow of the storytelling. Not surprisingly, given the Cronenberg DNA, it’s also a cold and clinical film. I love David Cronenberg’s work, particularly his movies from the 70s and 80s, but everything he’s ever done has always kept me at a distance. His characters are as cool and removed as subjects under a microscope, often ciphers more than sympathetic beings, and Brandon Cronenberg’s film continues this trend. However, where I nearly always dislike that trait in other film makers, David Cronenberg’s ideas have always been so intriguing, and his imagery so rich, that my inability to engage with his people doesn’t bother me. The same is true of his son’s ‘Antiviral’. Caleb Landry Jones gives a remarkable performance while never, for one moment, eliciting our compassion and Sarah Gadon, as Hannah Geist, is a blonde ice maiden with a vulnerable underside that Hitchcock would be proud of. Surprisingly, it’s Malcolm McDowell – as Hannah’s physician – who strikes the only true human chord in the entire piece, and this is the finest performance McDowell has given us for many years. McDowell’s career has been trapped in straight-to-video hell for such a long time that it’s been easy to forget what a great actor he can be. ‘Antiviral’ does have its problems, but only minor ones. There might be a little too much technobabble and the idea of a fine dining restaurant that serves Hannah Geist cell-steaks (with a photo of the star you’re eating on every table), does take the film’s uncomfortably fascinating central theme into Douglas Adams’ ‘Restaurant at the End of The Universe’ black comedy territory (although maybe that’s just my interpretation) and the third act does run a little too long, but these are small niggles considering what a fine achievement Brandon Cronenberg’s first feature is. And the pay-off is fabulous. I don’t know what it says about me, that the idea of eating a Hannah Geist steak is more revolting than receiving a shot of Hannah Geist herpes (maybe it just means I don’t like my meat that grey and rubbery looking) but – when I left the screening room and found my path to the tube station blocked by fawning celebrity wannabes queuing outside the London Palladium for the ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ auditions – I couldn’t help thinking that if I had some Amanda Holden burgers in my pocket, I could have made quite a lot of money. And when I saw Mark Kermode leave the same screening the thought did occur to me – if the good Doctor ever sells his DNA, please let me know. It could make me a better reviewer. ‘Antiviral’. Don’t miss it. Brandon Cronenberg has finally been released and he’s a film maker who’s worth catching.