In an alternate version of our present the world has become celebrity obsessed to a dangerous degree. Thanks to advanced science you can now buy meat synthesised from a celebrity’s muscle tissue or pay to become infected with a disease that has at one point passed through the celebrity’s body. Syd (Caleb Landry Jones) works for a corporation collecting celebrity diseases and selling them on to fans. Syd also has a sideline in smuggling the diseases to the black market using his own body as a vessel. Everything goes awry when he infects himself with the disease of a celebrity who suddenly dies leaving Syd desperately seeking a cure before he suffers the same fate.
The concept of a celebrity disease is not a new one to me personally. Back in 2007 I caught a cold from Edgar Wright and was bed ridden for days. I’ll admit there was a strange thrill in being able to tell people that the cause of my coughing and sneezing was the man who brought us Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. This combined with the mega-fandom we see on display thanks to the likes of Twilight and Justin Bieber and the idea of marketing celebrity diseases isn’t so far-fetched.
Writer/director Brandon Cronenberg (guess who his dad is) keeps most of the film to a stark white pallet, everything is clinical with the only real colour coming from the increasingly frequent spatters of blood. Sadly the clinical aesthetic extends to include the characters’ personalities and they are without exception detached, unsympathetic, and impossible to relate to.
With a focus on needles, disease, and blood Cronenberg is definitely straying into his father’s body horror territory and inviting unfavourable comparison.
The film is technically good with a stylish look and feel and impressive lead performance from Caleb Landry Jones but with such a clinical aesthetic and unsympathetic characters Antiviral is hard to connect with. The film is not pleasant nor easy to watch and though filled with interesting ideas is not necessarily an enjoyable experience. A smart but ugly first feature from the new Cronenberg.