Cronenberg. This is a name all film junkies should know. David Cronenberg has directed horror classics such as Videodrome and The Fly, period pieces like A Dangerous Method, masterpieces like Eastern Promises, and underrated gems such as Cosmopolis. He is known for his cold and disconnected style, mixed in with a certain amount of surrealist horror and general oddness.
Does the name Brandon Cronenberg ring any bells? He should. He is the son of David (heh) and a new director. After years of nearly every art form but film, he finally gave in and tried it out with Antiviral. Having premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, it has just now been released in limited theaters and Video On Demand.
When sons or daughters of famous directors take a turn to directing, they are almost instantly compared to their parent’s style. What do they do to escape this trap? They attempt to create a film all their own, whether it is unique in scripting or directorial style. Roman and Sofia Coppola escaped it. The question here is, did Brandon?
In a sense he did. The general layout and plot seem like they could belong to the older entries in his father’s filmography, being a type of body horror. It follows a man named Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) whose occupation involves obtaining diseases from celebrities and delivering them to their obsessed fans. Like the customers, he too injects the diseases into himself in order to steal and resell them. When a disease he injects kills the celebrity he contracted it from, he has to find the cure. All this happens in an alternate dystopian celebrity-crazed 2011.
Sounds like a David Cronenberg film, no? But is it a carbon-copy? Brandon recreates the feel of some of his father’s earlier films, amps up the tone up to eleven, and it works for the most part. The added dark and grotesque humor mixed with how disconnected it seems to feel make a thoroughly enjoyable film, that strangely separates this work from those of his father. I do not know whether or not it is better or worse off for it, but I do know that baby-Cronenberg has a bright directorial future set up for him. I for one am eager to see where film takes him next.
The set design, its costuming, its lighting… all perfect. The first act has most everything being clean and white, almost like the insides of what I imagine a medical center in the middle of a bio hazard scene would look like. As the film continues, it becomes increasingly grimy, highly contrasting with the pristine scenarios seen earlier. The first shot of the film shows Syd sitting on a pure white billboard. Advertised on it is the company Syd works for, the Lucas Clinic, with the celebrity that soon after dies (Sarah Gadon’s character) as an endorsement. Syd has a thermometer in his mouth, checking his temperature. He is sick. Similar scenes happen throughout the entire film, and starting off like this is remarkably off-putting, but it works. This feeling sticks with the audience during the film and long after.
There is one incredibly, incredibly, incredibly important aspect of film the creators seemed to have forgotten about. Things in this film happen, they are tense, and it is a very good watch, but who do we care about? Who do we even feel like we know while watching? Syd? We do not have any reason to care for him. We may be following him around, but whenever anything bad happens to him, we never truly care. Do we care about the celebrity? She may have been the best shot as someone to care for, but alas: she is on screen for just the briefest of minutes. What we get instead is talk about how everyone in that world loves her. I wish we had a chance to understand why. No matter how great everything else was in the film, if there is no one we care or no about, it is all inconsequential.
I must say I really did enjoy Antiviral. I would recommend it to everyone who likes films by his father. I believe that Brandon Cronenberg will be someone to look out for in the future. Despite this, there are no real people on screen, no development. The characters of the film, the relationships between them, where they go… Those are the most important aspect of film in my mind, and since it was forgotten, I am afraid the rating for this film must be a negative one.