Just last weekend I took a trip to the big smoke. While there I consumed far too much whisky and strutted about London in my brand new Buffy t-shirt, which is aces, obviously! Apart from making yet another, bold fashion statement, the purpose of my visit was to attend the 56th BFI London Film Festival – and attend it I did. Here’s the first review of two films screened in the festival’s cult section.
Brandon Cronenberg’s debut sees him visiting his father’s old stomping ground, with his own fetishistic body horror, Antiviral. What with daddy-kins off making nonsense like A Dangerous Method (Cronenberg, 2011), it’s safe to say Brandon’s not stepping on his old man’s toes, but has he brought anything new to the table?
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Antiviral takes place in a not too distant future, although the plausibility of that future is laughable; a world where everyone is so obsessed with celebrities, that people willingly infect themselves with designer viruses, because their favourite star contracted it, and they foolishly believe it will bring them closer to their obsession. Ok, it’s bonkers, but one of my favourite films is The Exorcist (Friedkin, 1973) and that’s all about some almighty evil possessing a child, in the ‘ultimate’ battle between good and evil – yeah, right.
Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) is an employee at The Lucas Clinic. A facility where adoring fans can be infected with officially licensed viruses, and in Brandon’s fictional world, no star is ‘hotter’ than Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon), who has an exclusive contract with The Lucas Clinic.
However, Syd infects himself with his employer’s newest viruses so he can sell them on the black market, but when he infects himself with Hannah Geist’s latest ailment, things take an unexpected turn when the starlet dies. On his journey to find an antidote, Syd is plunged into the murky world of corporate espionage and it soon becomes apparent that Geist’s death has been greatly exaggerated, but for what sinister purpose?
Antiviral in many ways is (unsurprisingly) a love letter to Brandon’s father and it features many archetypes from Cronenberg’s films: fetishised body horror; jarring violence; mutilation and ‘social commentary’; but that doesn’t mean it’s any good.
The acting for the most part is terrible, with the lead, Caleb Landry Jones, skulking his way through the entire film, mumbling his words and looking progressively pastier. To confound Brandon’s inability to direct an actor, at one point even Malcolm McDowell turns up – and yes, of course, he’s absolute rubbish! The film also features some rather blatant product placement, apparently Toshiba were one of the films main financiers!
And finally, my real bugbear, the social commentary concerning the state of celebrity culture. This ‘commentary’ is so skull–crushingly, middle-class and pretentious, it beggars belief. “Oh, how we mock those who enjoy X-Factor, aren’t we clever“. Celebrity culture and its influence on our wider society is kind of pathetic, we get it, but tosh like this is just pandering to its self-important, pompous audience, and quite frankly, I couldn’t care less what the son of a famous filmmaker thinks about it – take a hike you privileged twerp!