In Antiviral, celebrity fascination has reached new uncompromising heights. The Lucas Clinic specializes in acquiring diseases directly from infected celebrities and selling them to their patients. Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works in this facility and is responsible for making the patients feel comfortable and gradually lead them to the disease that will best connect them to their celebrity fixation. The Clinic’s exclusive celebrity is Hanna Geist (Sarah Gadon) and during a house call, Syd extracts a sample of her infected blood and then injects himself with it. But when a week later Geist dies from that fatal disease, Syd starts looking for a cure that leads him to an even more complex plot against Geist.
Prior to watching Antiviral, there were multiple aspects of it that instantly grabbed my attention. One was the fact that Brandon Cronenberg, son of David Cronenberg, would be making a sort of horror film in the wake of his father’s early work. As much as I love David Cronenberg’s new career direction, I can’t deny that his earlier work was far more challenging and disturbing. So for his son to tackle something similar seemed to me like natural and positive prospect. Another aspect that grabbed my attention was the premise of Antiviral and its commentary on celebrity, which after watching the film turned out to be even more unsettling than I expected.
It is true that celebrity culture has increased throughout the years. No longer do you need to possess actual talent to become famous, all you need is to be attractive, rich and hog the spotlight as much as possible. Through wicked deeds celebrities are born. But what’s even more scary than accepting mediocrity in our lives, is the simple and very real fact that we love that mediocrity, that superficiality to the extent that we create an increasingly unhealthy codependency or relationship to it. Celebrities become deities for a life that seems fulfilling, ever-lasting and perfect. And by getting closer to those people, we feel an otherworldly connectedness.
Celebrity, like so many other things in life, is a concept that has become quite detrimental. Yes, sometimes it yields positives but in most cases it feels like it only breathes negatives. Antiviral explores these ideas in such a perverse manner that both your body and your mind will be disturbed. In the film it isn’t just celebrity diseases that fans long for, but there is also a particular kind of meat or steak grown from celebrity muscle cells that fans buy. It is absolutely disgusting not just because the very idea of it screams cannibalism and insanity, but also because it would not surprise me if that materialized in the real world. Judging from how things are right now, the things that Antiviral presents feel plausible and in turn even more frightening.
The most frightening aspect of the film however, is none other than Caleb Landry Jones. It has been a very long time since a performance has unsettled my whole being. Jones creates such an uncomfortably still performance drenched in subtleties that it gradually crawls under your skin. The way in which his eyes rarely blink and he just stares forward with rage and inner turmoil is as fascinating as it is scary. He carries such an immense intensity and cold numbness that is compelling and jarring. Caleb Landry Jones owns the film from the very beginning and navigates you through the various stages of corporate greed, physical deterioration and full out hallucinatory insanity. This is the type of high calibre performance that unfortunately will not be recognized widely, but should nevertheless be remembered and talked about.
Antiviral is easily one of the best psychological horror thrillers to come in years. Brandon Cronenberg should be praised for the remarkable achievement that is this film. Even with the aesthetic themes that in theory feel similar to his father’s work, Aniviral never feels like a David Cronenberg film nor one that is trying to emulate him. This film is unique, fresh and showcases Brandon Cronenberg’s talents as a methodical, thoughtful and interesting director. Caleb Landry Jones delivers an outstandingly eerie and memorable performance that also showcases his talents and technique. If Jones continues making films like this that challenge people and make them reconsider their beliefs then he shall rapidly become one of the best young actors working today. Antiviral is a phenomenal film that will creep and disturb the hell out of you, not just with its morbid aesthetics but also with its plausibility.
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