Body horror. It’s a subgenre that is especially hard-hitting because we all (or at least most of us) have bodies and we would hate to see some crazy and/or painful shit happen to them. We like to think that we have some control over our bodies even though that control is illusory. (don’t believe me? try to stop your next round of hiccups through sheer force of will. or go ahead and mind-cure your next cold.) So, when body horror is done right, it can really creep viewers out with nightmarish “what if” relatability. Of course, the first name in body horror is Cronenberg. (obviously, that’s a last name, but you get the point) More than a few of his films represent the gold standard by which body horror is judged. It stands to reason then that when his son, Brandon, set out to make his feature debut, it was a body horror film. (i like to imagine that he was raised in a home that resembles a Joel Peter Witkin photo) Antiviral is Cronenberg Jr.’s attempt at carrying on his father’s legacy. (an unoriginal observation, to be sure)
Syd (played perfectly by the reptilian Caleb Ladry Jones) works for a company that sells viruses collected from the blood of celebrities. (did i mention that this is set in the future?) He moonlights as a smuggler for said viruses, using his own body to get them to the black market celebrity virus dealers. To do this, he must first jailbreak (to put it in 2016 terms) the viruses with a hacking console in order to remove the copyright restrictions. Along the way, he runs into various scumbag types and even deals with a shop that specializes in stem cell (i assume) grown celebrity flesh for human consumption. (you think you wouldn’t eat human even if it was grown in a petri dish, but wouldn’t you? just once? think about it) Due to some organizational changes at work (because of another employee caught smuggling) he’s asked to collect a blood sample from the company’s biggest (and most recently infected with an unknown virus) celeb. He does and takes the opportunity to inject himself with a little bit of that red gold. Turns out, this virus is an ass-kicker/console breaker and Syd has to figure out how not to die from it. There’s also some corporate espionage, mortal danger, and disgusting symptoms thrown in there for good measure.
As I mentioned, it’s unoriginal to compare Brandon C.’s work to his father’s. But, come on. He’s a Cronenberg making a weird body horror film. So, I’m going to go ahead and wax unoriginal here. Brandon didn’t make a David caliber film. There. That’s it. Did he make a good film though? It’s certainly twisted, both in its subject matter and in its plot threads. And it’s repulsive (a definite positive for body horror). It’s rather creative too. Jones (Landry Jones?) is great as the guarded, schemer. The social commentary is a bit heavy-handed but it works as a framing device for the conflict. It’s shot well. It’s edited well. There’s a palpable sense of urgency at times. All of the elements are there. It just never quite reaches the viewer emotionally. We have trouble sympathizing with the main character. We can’t relate to his plight and we’re not given a very strong reason to try. He’s not a very likeable guy. That’s not a dealbreaker though. (i mean, papa Cronenberg’s characters are almost always unlikeable guys) So, what keeps Antiviral from greatness? I don’t know. It could be the lack of emotional connection in the viewer. It could be the few illogical steps Syd takes. It could be the preposterous premise. Whatever it is, it’s a solid entry into the body horror subgenre, but it’s not something that adds much to it in the long run. That said (uh oh), it’s an intriguing glimpse into what Brandon Cronenberg is capable of and I’d certainly check out any further feature films from him (whew).
The Final Cut: Antiviral is a decent-enough body horror film with a creative premise, though it doesn’t seem very likely even for a dystopian future. The parts are all there for a cult classic, but the sum doesn’t quite add up.