Posted January 28, 2013 by David Watson in Films


It’s often said that the apple rarely falls far from the tree.

It’s often
said that the apple rarely falls far from the tree.
In the case of Canadian director David Cronenberg’s son Brandon and his debut feature Antiviral, the apple withered on the
branch around the time his father was making Videodrome.

In the near future, our fascination with celebrity culture
has become such an obsession that for some superfans an autograph just won’t
cut it; so desperate to be close to their idols, they willingly infect
themselves with viruses harvested from their favourite stars. Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works for The Lucas Clinic, a company that
specialises in supplying its clients with celebrity infections. If you want the same strain of herpes
as that reality TV star or to catch chickenpox from your favourite actress,
Syd’s the man who can make your dream come true.

But he’s not above turning a profit on the side,
supplementing his income by infecting himself with celebrity viruses and
smuggling them out of the clinic hidden within his own body, selling them on to
black marketer and butcher Arvid (Joe
) who also does a nice line in steaks
cultured from celebrity tissue – perfect for those of you who always wished
Victoria Beckham had more meat on her bones.

But when Syd tries to bootleg the mystery illness afflicting
megastar Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon),
he gets more than he bargained for when the pathogen kills her. With his body and mind deteriorating
and both his employers and the black marketeers after the virus that’s killing
him, Syd finds himself in a desperate race against time to cure himself and
discover who wanted Hannah dead.

It’d be nice to be able to review Antiviral without ever mentioning director Brandon Cronenberg’s
parentage but it’s almost impossible and four paragraphs too late for that
anyway. A treacle-slow, soporific
meditation on celebrity culture, Cronenberg Jr.’s anaemic body horror feels
like the bloodless, asexual clone of one of Daddy’s chilly, early Canadian
horror flicks, Shivers without the
shagging, Videodrome without the
vaginal wounds.

Borrowing the plot of William
’s Johnny Mnemonic
(high-tech courier smuggles dangerous secrets in his brain that threaten to
literally blow his mind), stirring in an unhealthy dollop of bugchasing (the
practice where the HIV negative seek
out and have unprotected sex with HIV
partners in an attempt to share infection) and setting the whole
mess in what appears to be an Ikea commercial, little Brandy obviously believes
he’s saying something deeply intelligent and satirical about our hunger for
celebrity – “Look! Look at the sheeple eating steaks made of
their idols!
That’s you, that is!” – but its all rather
obvious, a dilettante hipster’s self-regarding exercise in smuggery.

Albino-pale and lacking even basic animation, Landry Jones
and Gadon are suitably bland protagonists, hipster fashion models with
red-rimmed eyes and a bad case of the sniffles, devoid of personality and as
underdeveloped as a three-week abortion, it’s almost impossible to care about
their characters but the script does them no favours and it’s almost a relief
when Malcolm McDowell turns up for a
few scenes to give us the creeps as Gadon’s doctor, whose unhealthy fascination
for his patient really should get him struck off.

Tedious, mannered and not half as smart or funny as it
thinks it is, it’s doubtful Antiviral’s
slow-incubating mix of body horror and satire will (***OBVIOUS JOKE ALERT***) go viral anytime soon. Instead, why not head down to your
nearest Casualty department with a couple of copies of Heat and OK! magazines
and bathe in the heady cocktail of celebrity gossip and tuberculosis. The overall effect is much the

David Watson

David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: