It is not always an easy task to break into a field in which one of your parents has already excelled at, especially if your father is David Cronenberg, who is considered by many to be one of our most brilliant living filmmakers. So, it took a lot of guts for Brandon Cronenberg to decide to plunge into his own filmmaking career. The first thing that everyone will want to know is if Brandon is as good as his legendary father.
I think that this is an unfair question to ask because, number one, Brandon has only made one film so far, while his father has a long and varied filmography, and number two, I think all filmmakers and artists should be judged on the merits of their own work, without having to compare them to their respected fathers or mothers. But, just to make you, my fellow reader, feel better…I will say this:
Brandon Cronenberg knows how to make movies, and he does have a very promising career ahead of him.
With his film Antiviral, Brandon Cronenberg has shown that he does have the trace DNA of his father in him, with his thematic concerns with body horror, the merger of the human body with technology, and aberrant sexual behavior.
Antiviral is a cold, clinical, and darkly humorous film about Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), a disease-obsessed man who works at the Lucas Clinic, a company that specializes in injecting customers with diseases taken directly from their favorite celebrities.
However, in addition to carrying out the mandatory injections into his customers, Syd starts secretly injecting himself with these diseases. After he injects himself with the virus from the Lucas Clinic’s celebrity spokeswoman Hannah Geist, Syd finds himself involved in a labyrinthian conspiracy involving corrupt pharmaceutical companies, greedy scientists, and a mysterious doctor played by Malcolm McDowell.
With its central concept of a future society in which people inject themselves with diseases from their favorite celebrities, Antiviral is about the commodification and monetization of celebrity worship. For Cronenberg, the obsession with celebrities that is engrained within our modern society is akin to a disease that threatens to destroy us.
It is no coincidence that Syd’s customers are willing to risk their own health, and sometimes their own lives, in order to make some sort of a “connection” with the celebrities that they so much want to be like. Cronenberg films the customers as looking pale and unhealthy, even before they have injected the diseases into themselves, while the celebrities they worship are shown as having pristine and attractive physical features. However, the flawless outer appearances of celebrities covers up the many disease-carrying viruses and pathogens contained within their seemingly benign exteriors.
This disconnect between inner and outer appearances is a central theme throughout Antiviral. The clean, white rooms of the Lucas Clinic at the beginning of the film gradually give way to scenes of blood-splattered walls and ruptured surfaces, as Syd discovers more and more about the nefarious, inner secrets of the Clinic.
Although it gets bogged down in exposition and pacing issues in its last act, for most of its running time, Antiviral is a cleverly made film that is alternately squirm-inducing, thought-provoking, and at times genuinely unsettling.