23 February 2013

Review: Antiviral

(Dir: Brandon Cronenberg, 2012)

We didn’t know it at the time but 1999 signified the end of the David Cronenberg that we all knew and loved. That year saw the release of eXistenZ, a fiercely wild and twisted view of how gaming would eventually overtake our bodies, minds and reality. It was typically Cronenberg and the last film he made to delve into the abstract realms of body horror before he morphed into a director of darker thrillers such as A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, and more verbose explorations of the mind like Cosmopolis (read review here) and A Dangerous Method. This change in direction was certainly no bad thing, but it left a gaping void in the landscape of intriguingly cerebral horror that still feels like it needs filling.

And so we welcome Brandon Cronenberg to the fold, who with his debut feature seems keen to show that he is his father’s son and may just be the person to suture that void. Antiviral feels in many ways like the natural successor to eXistenZ, offering another sharply critical analysis on today’s society through alternative technology. In short, it’s about a world so obsessed with celebrity that bioengineering the viruses of the famous has become worth a lot of money. We follow Syd (Caleb Landry Jones), a salesman / bioengineer for one of these clinics, who accidently becomes embroiled in something that threatens his life.

As a critique on the next level of celebrity worship it’s scarily fascinating. What better way to get closer to your “god” than to have a manipulated version of their cells injected into you? Together there’s a unity as you suffer the same as they did. Viruses become the next logical step for licensing and exclusivity deals, not to mention patents. A media so totally obsessed with covering the (possible) illnesses and diseases of the stars rather than who they’re fucking or what they're wearing. The disturbing question is how many steps are we away from this being reality? It doesn’t feel outside the realms of possibility. 

Antiviral is bathed in the stark verisimilitude of medical white. It’s a world devoid of much colour aside from the radiant glow of the face of celebrity Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon) and the deep crimson richness of virulent blood being disgorged. It’s the sort of film where blood turns into a weapon. More darkness is let in as the film progresses, representing the declining state of Syd as a result of his proclivity for sampling the goods, which drives the story. Jones is fascinating in the role with a performance that leans more towards the physical, giving the constant impression that he’s never far from the precipice. The pervading sterile whiteness continually helps give an unsettling impression that something ugly is going to happen.

The body horror aspect feels a lot more reigned in than might’ve been expected, which turns out to be a plus. The story is driven by a more medical narrative; something that is pretty disgusting in concept but not so much in physical execution beyond what could be normally seen in any hospital. Cronenberg’s writing and direction is decent, presenting an intriguing story whilst creating enough about his world to make it work. The aforementioned use of colour alongside good camerwork, framing of shots and a decent electronic score, all make for a very good film. How much you like Antiviral will depend on your taste for stories of this nature, but as someone intrigued by such creatively "out-there" ideas it totally worked for me and I'm now eagerly anticipating what the younger Cronenberg will do next.

No comments:

Post a Comment