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Review: ‘Antiviral’

Like Father, Like Son

Above: Brandon Cronenberg's "Antiviral" reveals the influence of his father David but with a style all his own.

Aired 4/20/13 on KPBS News.

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando review "Antiviral"


Filmmaker David Cronenberg once told me he’s not interested in "comfortable cinema." Well he's apparently passed that onto his son Brandon Cronenberg whose debut film is "Antiviral" (playing April 26 and 27 at 10pm only at Reading Gaslamp Stadium Theaters).

Originality is a rare commodity in art, so when something fresh and unexpected comes my way, it’s cause for celebration. Brandon Cronenberg’s “Antiviral” is cause for celebration. The son of director David Cronenberg, Brandon reveals his dad’s flair for cold, clinical brilliance; body horror; and a knack for unnerving his audience. Dad's influence is clearly apparent but Brandon does not live in his father's shadow. He definitely displays a cinematic voice of his own -- but you can see the family lineage and in this case it's a good thing.

“Antiviral” is Brandon Cronenberg’s cerebral sci-fi take on the cult of celebrity combined with anxieties over genetic science and big business. In the world of “Antiviral” fans can buy viruses from their favorite celebrities at elite clinics designed to feed their obsessions for a hefty price. The main character, Syd (Caleb Landry Jones, Banshee of "X-Men: First Class") works at the swanky Lucas Clinic where he pitches these viruses as if he were selling a little piece of perfection. It’s big business and corporations want to protect their investments. Here's how the founder of Lucas Clinic explains it in the film: "This advanced form of copy protection affords us control over the distribution of our products as the product cannot spread beyond the infected client."

Imagine if they put all that time, energy, and resources into finding a cure for cancer or AIDS. But where's the profit in that? For those without disposable income, there’s a semi-legal meat market where you can buy steaks grown from the cells of your favorite celebrity. Which prompts Syd to ponder: "I don’t understand how this is not considered cannibalism." The answer he gets is that it's just muscle cells but "We’ll see what happens when we go from growing celebrity cell steaks to growing celebrity bodies."

The film is exquisitely shot, meticulously crafted, and deliciously unsettling. From the opening shot -- of a sickly Syd against the massive billboard of a gorgeous celebrity -- we know we are in the hands of a skilled filmmaker and it's thrilling.

“Antiviral” is a chilly, smart, satiric, and deeply uncomfortable film that dissects the ills of modern society with a very precise scalpel. I can't wait to see more from Brandon Cronenberg, Canadian horror filmmakers (David Cronenberg, The Soska Twins, Vincenzo Natali) are doing some of the most interesting work in the genre because they are not copping out to what's trendy but pursuing something that reveals a more personal obsession with the darkness that makes horror truly scary or disquieting.

Companion viewing: "Videodrome," "eXistenz," "Splice"

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Avatar for user 'silverfishimperitrix'

silverfishimperitrix | April 20, 2013 at 12:56 p.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

"Imagine if they put all that time, energy, and resources into finding a cure for cancer or AIDS. But where's the profit in that?" Billions, my friend. Billions.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | April 20, 2013 at 2:23 p.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

Well in the context of this film, the corporations don't see a profit in that. They see a profit in selling something totally valueless and absurd to people with far too much money on their hands (or the willingness to spend far too much money on something they don't need). These are things that would never be covered under your health care. It's like the difference between someone who becomes a surgeon to help save lives and someone who goes into plastic surgery to make money. The latter is far more financially profitable.

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